Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 7/11/08
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Music: Danny Elfman
Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, cameo by John Hurt

Incredible! Visually astounding and overflowing with imaginative wonder, this film is a serious improvement over the original. While it still slides into comic book mentality and juvenile goofiness, it plays it mostly straight and has a dark and ominous edge to it. While it may be all fun and games right now, the future does NOT look good for our heroes. The film opens with a breath-taking flashback as John Hurt reads a fantastic story to a young Hellboy about elves, goblins, and the indestructible Golden Army. Back in the present, the Golden Army is about to be awakened by Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) to wage war on humankind, and it's up to Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his friends to save the world from annihilation. Or to perhaps just postpone the inevitable...

Much like when I saw the first "Hellboy," this screening was also spoiled by a technical glitch. The series must be jinxed. (or maybe it's just me) Anyway, I got a free ticket out of the deal, so I'm not going to complain. Aside from that, the first thing you notice about the film is how incredibly immersive and vibrant it is. It's truly a fantasy film and the world it creates is rich and full of life. Truly beautiful stuff. And speaking of beautiful, Selma Blair is back as Hellboy's sidekick/girlfriend and she is utterly amazing. Her hair is kind of silly, but she has the authority to pull it off. Wow...

As your brain is over-indulging in all of this mind numbing eye candy, the next thing you notice is how dark and violent the film is, and how incredibly well Guillermo del Toro captures it on film. The angles and camera movements add an amazing amount of depth to the proceedings and are just brilliant. I also suspect that del Toro is a kung fu enthusiast, because the martial arts sequences are stunning and very reminiscent of early 90's Hong Kong fare. I haven't seen such satisfying fight choreography and editing in a long time, and I salute his tenacity to take it seriously when he could have settled for much less.

Of course the creature effects, designs, makeup, and animations are superb, but it's the people behind them that bring it all to life. It would be easy to write off the film as style over substance, but it HAS substance, and it's all the better for it. The film has a lot of heart, and there are some truly touching dramatic moments. The encounter with the forest elemental is beautifully moving, and highlights the moral ambiguity and tragedy that runs through the entire film. And then the film has some truly funny moments as well. I laughed out loud on several occasions, which is EXTREMELY rare for me. But it worked. Seeing Red and Blue singing along to Barry Manilow is both hilarious and poignant.

Walking out of the theater, I was awash with emotions. I was sad, but smiling, and felt like a great burden had been lifted from my soul. I applaud del Toro's fantastic vision and anxiously look forward to his future projects.