BOTTOM LINE: This sequel is so engrossing, enchanting, outrageous and out and out fun that even if you've never heard of the character or seen the first HB movie you'll still enjoy it. It's stuffed with amazing creatures who are so alien and yet instantly identifiable as wholly human by their actions & emotions. This is just a grand time at the movies. In fact, the only downside of this film is that we'll never see the final installment of GDT's Hellboy trilogy to find out how everything wrapped up, now that they're rebooting the franchise. :-(
THOUGHTS: I rather enjoyed the first Hellboy movie back in 2004. I knew nothing of the comic on which it was based but was familiar with Ron Perlman’s genre work and was already a fan of Guillermo Del Toro, so it was a no-brainer to rent it when it hit the video store shelves. The first HB is off-kilter and chock full of so much eye candy in the form of crazy creatures that it was as much fun to stare at the individual elements of the film as it was to enjoy it as a whole. Thankfully, this 2008 sequel is everything the first film is and MORE, in the best possible way. Even better, you don’t have to have seen the first movie nor be familiar with the Mike Mignola comicbook series to enjoy it. (It helps, of course, but you won't be completely lost if you view HB II:TGA 'cold').
The acting across the board in this movie is simply outstanding. Ron Perlman nails the character of Hellboy and brings additional emotional depth this time around, fully fleshing out the complex demon anti-hero and making him so human that you feel he could be someone you know. (Like Mr. Spock, Hellboy and his eclectic friends / co-workers often come across in these films feeling more 'human' than most of the actual humans around them.) Selma Blair as HB’s hot love interest Liz Sherman doesn't get as much screen time as I would've liked, but she makes the most of what she does get. Doug Jones (for heaven's sake, someone give this man an Academy Award already! Sheesh!!) is absolutely wonderful as the literal fish out of water, Abe Sapien. His nuanced performance is a joy to watch; he can say more with twitchy physical mannerisms & head tilts than many other actors could with five pages of dialog. New BPRD/government liaison, Johann Krauss (voice acted by Seth McFarlane) is a visual wonder, (his intricately-detailed diving suit-inspired outfit is just fantastic!), and his wickedly funny interaction with HB and the others makes him a wary yet welcome addition to the rowdy BPRD crew. Jeffery Tambor as Tom Manning, the forever-frustrated divison head of the Bureau of Paranorma Research & Defense, is hilarious as always; the man's comic timing has been so finely honed over the years that he can probably do this kind of role in his sleep. :-)
The villains & sidebar characters are equally interesting, engaging and startling. Luke Goss as exiled Prince Nuada is a manic adversary, yet he has enough anguish and conflict bubbling just under the surface that you really feel for him. He is a frighteningly fierce fighter, and though he is thin & wiry almost to the point of malnutrition, his ferocity in combat makes him a very scary and lethal threat to our beefy red lughead hero. The action scenes, it must be said, are some of the most energetic and excellently-choreographed I've seen on film in ages. Magnificent work by both the actors & their stunt doubles. The Prince's behemoth henchman 'Wink' is a real treat, too; wonderfully realized through elaborate practical make-ups & suitmation work. No CGI hocus pocus here; just a very real, very tired and very sweaty stuntman giving his all in some brutal fight sequences... and managing to turn in a surprisingly deft acting performance underneath all that foam rubber as well.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Prince's wide-eyed, gossamer-like sister Nuala (Anne Walton), makes an enchanting first love for flustered fishman, Abe. His genuine awkwardness in his scenes with her feels so... real. And I dare anyone not to be fully in love with this terrific film by the time the amazingly touching "Can't Smile without You" scene is over. That may be my favorite seen from ANY comicbook movie, and probably in the top 10 of my favorite scenes from ANY movie - ever. It is just magnificent. Disarming, real, relatable and heartbreakingly funny. If you've ever been in love or had a painful crush on someone who didn't return that love, then you will completely feel right there in the moment for both Abe and Hellboy in this marvelous little side scene. Pure GDT genius at work here... and throughout the entire film in fact; all the way to that wondrous, sidesplitting final freeze frame.
THE BLU-RAY: A solid hi-def release from Universal Home Video, the video & audio for HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY are first rate, as they should be for a modern blockbuster movie of this caliber. There is no artifacting, edge enhancement, pixelation, crush or other video irritants to spoil the viewing experience. The dialog in the otherwise excellent soundmix was a little on the soft side, but not so much so as to ruin things. (And that's what subtitles are for, anyhow.) This Blu-ray comes stuffed to the gills (sorry, Abe!) with an exhaustive amount of bonus content, which is fairly common with Guillermo Del Toro films. There are interactive goodies and a wealth of behind-the-scenes stuff to please even the hardest of hardcore HB fans: commentary tracks, deleted scenes and multiple "making of" featurettes, the main one clocking in at over two hours! Trust me, you really get your money's worth here.
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY is a truly wonderful motion picture; a film that was just ahead of the cinematic comicbook boom that we’re all so used to now. If you haven't seen this terrific movie yet, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to this spiffy Blu-ray. You'll be glad you did.