OK, let’s say you’re Guillermo del Toro. You’ve just made Pan’s Labyrinth and it was hailed by critics the world over as a beautiful piece of cinema, and it ultimately earned you an Oscar. Pan’s proves to Peter Jackson that you, and only you, are the man to take over his equally heralded Lord of the Rings film series and direct The Hobbit.
So, how do you celebrate? You bring back some old friends and give them the big-screen treatment they deserve.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an improvement on the first film in almost every way. Where Hellboy was weighed down by the titular hero’s convoluted origins (he’s a demon whose destiny is to kick off Armageddon, but we found him first so he’s on our side), the sequel is breezy and fun.
Tired of being in the shadows, Prince Nuada (Goss) breaks the ancient truce between humanity and mystical folk (faeries, elves, trolls, David Bowie) and aims to awaken the Golden Army to crush us Muggles into oblivion. It’s up to Hellboy (Perlman) and the rest of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to save mankind — but HB must also grapple with relationship issues (he and pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz `Blair` are in a rough patch) and the fact that he’ll never be accepted by the people he protects.
Don’t be too hard on the conventional plot, because del Toro’s decidedly unconventional characters are the real stars. Perlman is still the red glue that holds it all together (he achieves some surprising depth under all that latex), but everybody in the B.P.R.D. gets a moment to shine. Longtime del Toro collaborator Doug Jones takes Abe Sapien to uncharted waters as the brainy fish-man falls in love (then charmingly drowns his sorrows with booze).
Interestingly, it’s the human characters who have less to do: Del Toro’s more concerned with the hairy, smelly, and ugly segment of America, as evidenced by a trip to a dazzlingly detailed and imaginative troll market under the Brooklyn Bridge.
If troll markets aren’t your thing, that’s fine — but you’ll have a good time if you just give in to the strength of del Toro’s vision. That moment came for me in the aftermath of a battle between Hellboy and a towering forest elemental (a sort of “Plantzilla”). The action is typical — HB fires a big gun at the baddie until it’s toast — but the elemental’s falling blood spreads moss and foliage wherever it lands, eventually turning the entire city block below into a whimsical, leafy garden. It’s just one of many magical touches that elevates the Hellboy series above its profit-driven summer competitors. Del Toro makes his films with love (aw), and that’s why his fans will follow him anywhere — and back again.