Director Guillermo del Toro has earned high praise in some circles for his sequel to 2004's Hellboy (which itself is based on the Dark Horse comics series created by Mike Mignola) and the newly released Hellboy II: The Golden Army is not bad, as far as sequels go.
Still, after catching this film over the weekend, I'm not so sure that it is deserving of such accolades. I can definitely see why Sony opted not to pursue this project, H2:TGA is basically just more of the same .... with a little extra thrown in.
I really don't like how director del Toro lights the film. In Mignola's comics work, Hellboy moves through an eerie, atmospheric landscape fraught with nightmares, but del Toro has stripped that away in both of his Hellboy movies and simply tossed the BPRD (Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense) gang into the full glare of the real world. The whole effect smacks entirely too much of the campy nature of the 1960's Batman television show. Don't get me wrong, Ron Perlman is fine as Hellboy, Doug Jones is great as Abe Sapien, Selma Blair is both wonderful and sexy as Liz Sherman, but for me the whole thing skews too closely to a Saturday morning kids cartoon show.
Two other aspects of the film led to my disillusion with del Toro's interpretation. The buddy-style humor virtually overwhelms the picture, as if the entire mess is so self aware of its own flaws that they've gotta nudge-nudge, wink-wink at the audience from start to finish in a futile attempt to disguise this conceit. There ARE some hilarious one-liners peppered throughout the movie, but c'mon, not for the whole damn thing guys.
Also, where is the tension over the events that are supposedly playing out. You would think that Hellboy & company view the Golden Army as just another hurdle to get past, and considering the limited screen time that the titular mcguffin is allowed, you would be right. Ron Perlman's character is also fatally imperiled en route to facing the Golden Army, but the emotion that should be present among the supporting players is quite muted during this sequence.
Much has been written about the Troll Market scenes, some have even compared this to the original Star Wars Cantina sequence, but I was not as enamored of this portion of the movie. There comes a point when you do a complete disconnect from the festivities, and for me this proved to to be the icing on the cake. Muppetry is a time-tested, fun thing to watch, but even the "real" Muppet's know that they are puppets.
I think that too many supporters of this movie are giving it a pass based on del Toro's earlier Oscar-winning motion picture effort "Pan's Labyrinth", but another of Guillermo's contemporaries, Alfonso Cuaron, took another fantasy-based property, with fanciful creatures and magical themes, 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and treated its literary realm with much more regard. I don't doubt that del Toro likes Mignola's fictional environment, but he simply hasn't translated it to the big screen in any recognizable form. Cuaron's Potter film is considered by many to be among the best of that film series. At least he "got" the source material.
One last note about the extended cast members, Luke Goss and Anna Walton, as respectively, Prince Nuada and Princess Nuala, are incredible in their roles. Goss infuses Nuada, the heavy of the film, with true emotional depth, which despite setting his character in total opposition of Hellboy, is very believable given his motivation. Walton also brings considerable emotional charm to her role of Nuala. In fact, these two characters seem to have stepped out of an entirely different film, and that is the fault of del Toro, who didn't elevate the production to match what these fine actors were giving him. However, it was nice to see how they worked John Hurt's character back into the picture,despite his character having died in the earlier Hellboy movie. Ron Perlman's former cast mate on TV's Beauty and the Beast, Roy Dotrice has an effective cameo too. Seth MacFarlane voices a new character, Johann Krauss to terrific effect, but why they opted to continue Jeffrey Tambor's involvement is beyond me. Like the missing Agent Myers, he should have been dropped as well.
This movie may score at the box office, but I'll close by saying that Hellboy 2 is simply a good rental, so wait for the DVD.