topfivefilms.com Tuesday 18th January 2022
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Hellboy II The Golden Army (12A)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Reviewed by: Dave Witt

There was this trilogy of films, a few years back, about some hobbits and some magic ring or other. Apparently it was quite popular. When the decision was made to make another two hobbit films (set before the first three), the powers that be needed another formerly-rotund beardy geek-master to take the helm from previous director Peter Jackson. That beardy geek-master was Guillermo del Toro, and Hellboy II The Golden Army is further proof that when it comes to vividly-realised, darkly imaginative fantasy, with a heart of gold, he's the number one go-to guy around here.

"How dare you? I do NOT take two bottles into the shower!"

Following not-so-hot on the heels of 2004's cheerful but procedural Hellboy, HB2TGA arrives with all but one of the original cast reunited (and you wouldn't really miss him anyway), plus a couple of new additions. Ron Perlman effortlessly reprises his role as the first part of the title, a part he was seemingly born to play. Selma Blair is back as the firey Liz Sherman, and Doug Jones (getting to keep his own voice this time) is Mr Froggy-in-the-tank Abe Sapien. Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor also returns as the stuffed-shirt comic relief, and one half of Bros (I'm not kidding, it's really him – he was in Blade 2 as well) arrives as the new boy in town: a generously-coiffed elven prince with designs on raising the second half of the title to destroy the world of men. Which seems reasonable, what with global warming and all.

The tone of HB2 is lighter than its predecessor, and in turn it adds a greater degree of its own mythology – the opening sequence alone is a transfixing animation, which arguably displays more visual panache in five minutes than the previous film mustered in 120. HB2 is clearly a labour of love for del Toro – he passed up the chance to direct several supposedly bigger films to make a sequel to a film that wasn't exactly brilliantly received – and once again has collaborated on the story with the original comic's creator, Mike Mignola. This affection shines through, coupled with del Toro's fantastical tendencies, to reveal a magical perspective on our world, teeming with trolls, elves and fairies (and, one suspects, far more than that) beneath and even among us.

The film's visuals are simply splendid, and offer tremendous depth even in shots that last mere seconds. There's still darkness, grotesquery and menace (although nothing on the scale of del Toro's masterwork, Pan's Labyrinth), but it's countered with a breezy tone and a rich vein of humour, not to mention pathos, that runs through the film. The film boasts a number of inventive and impressive action set-pieces (which is saying something in this age of seen-it-all epic CGI battles), and for the most part the cast's performances – as what are, after all, freaks – are sympathetic and nicely pitched. In fact, him from Bros is particularly good; his character will probably be ripped off by sub-par action films over the next couple of years, but at least he'll make a good plastic action figure.

There are a couple of minor splatter-marks on this otherwise spotless film-napkin; the dialogue in places is modest, to say the least, and the romantic sub-plot that is presumably de rigeur for any film aimed at the teen market feels shoehorned and superfluous. This is compounded by Selma Blair's performance, which is the weakest of the lot (I believe the term is "half-arsed"). Additionally, there is a lingering suspicion that perhaps the film is a little too evocative of del Toro's previous works; at one point does a consistently-themed oeuvre become by-the-numbers routine?

These niggling issues aside, the film remains sterling, if uncomplicated; more textured and well-rounded than its predecessor, combining the illuminating fantasy of Pan's Labyrinth (without even one tenth of the nastiness) with the unaffected good-humour inherent in the character. With del Toro apparently booked up solid until 2014, don't count on a further sequel arriving in the near future; the omens for hobbit-fans, however, are very promising indeed.

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Length: 120 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Official Site: www.hellboymovie.com
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0411477
Release Date: 20th August 2008

Top Five Rating: 80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0% (80.0%)
User Rating: 80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0% (80.0%)

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