While I’m a fan of the first Hellboy film, in retrospect it’s pretty obvious that Guillermo del Toro made some concessions to Sony to get the film out there. It was a fun and visually interesting film, but lacked the quirky, fairy-tale vibe del Toro’s films are famous for, and, as a result, wasn’t anything more or less than a solidly entertaining superhero flick. After the critical success of Pan’s Labyrinth (and the commercial success of his numerous international productions), however, the visionary director now seems firmly in control of his own destiny, and, with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro was allowed to make a Hellboy film on his terms. The result is an action/fantasy hybrid that’s equal parts lighthearted adventure romp, heartbreaking love story, and jaw-dropping spectacle. It’s also one of the year’s best and most underrated films.
The film opens in the late 1950’s, with young Hellboy being read a “bedtime story” by his adopted father, Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt). The tale tells of a war between the realms of myth and the encroaching humans. The Elves field a seemingly indestructible mechanized battle force (the titular Golden Army) that nearly wipes out humanity before a repentant King Balor ends the bloodshed by offering a truce. The king breaks up the crown with which he controlled the army into three pieces; two of which would remain in his possession, while one would be given to the humans.
Flash forward to present day. Prince Nuada (the excellent Luke Goss), son of King Balor, has returned to claim what he feels is rightfully his; control of a world that the wasteful and ignorant humans have pushed to the brink. Nuada commandeers the first piece of the crown at an auction in which he declares war on humankind, and then returns to his home to confront his father, in hopes of peacefully obtaining the remaining two pieces of the crown. When Balor refuses, Nuada has no choice but to take what he seeks by force, but his twin sister, Nuala (Anne Walton), escapes with one of the pieces of the crown.
Meanwhile, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the team are called in to investigate the massacre at the auction house. Having reconciled their feelings for one another, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) are now a couple, despite the fact that “Red’s” immaturity, obsession with television, and fondness for felines has already driven a wedge between them. Things are further complicated by a secret Liz is not sure she’s ready to share with her mate (she’s pregnant!).
While the bickering Red and Liz are caught up in their relationship issues, Abe Sapien (this time performed and voiced by Doug Jones) discovers that Nuada is planning to reawaken the Golden Army, and the group must venture into the shadowy world of the creatures of myth to seek out Nuala and put a stop to her brother’s plans.
Perlman is just an inspired choice for series creator Mike Mignola’s (who also co-scripted) character, and Jones is superb as Abe. Selma Blair is geekily sexy as Liz, and is afforded a far beefier role this time out, while Luke Goss’ Nuada makes for a noble and exciting “villain”. Of course the real star here is del Toro, who has become the King Midas of genre cinema, as everything he’s involved with just oozes his passion and love for cinema. I actually saw this film in theaters just after seeing The Dark Knight, and, while I enjoyed both films, this is the movie that had me leaving the theater with a big dumb smile on my face. Just great stuff.
Universal delivers Hellboy to Blu-ray in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, and the results are outstanding. This is one of those transfers that really get the viewer’s blood pumping, with awesome clarity, a true sense of dimension, and a vibrant and lush color palette. Blacks are deep and true, and provide a solid backdrop for the colorful action that seems to pop out of the screen. The scenes with the Golden Army are absolutely disarming in their depth and detail. This is one of the best transfers I’ve seen yet!
The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is equally impressive, providing a full-on sonic assault that delivers immense punch on the low end, crystal clear dialogue, and an all-encompassing surround mix. Everything from the stomach rumbling boom of Hellboy’s “Big Baby” pistol to the grinding gears of the mechanized warriors to the gentle flickering of the flames that enshroud Liz comes off as perfectly articulated and mixed.
Universal offers up heaps of extras in this two-disc special edition set, including:
· Feature Commentary with Director Guillermo del Toro
· Feature Commentary with Cast Members Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair and Luke Goss
· Set Visits: Seven mini documentaries provide viewers with unlimited access to the Hellboy II: The Golden Army set.
·Troll Market Tour with Guillermo del Toro: Using sketches and backstage video, del Toro walks the audience through the creation of one of the film’s most distinctive sets, the legendary Troll Market.
· Animated Zinco Epilogue Comic
· Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary by Director Guillermo del Toro
· Prologue: A special introduction to the DVD from director Guillermo del Toro.
· Pre-Production Vault:
· Director’s Notebook: Exclusive interviews, image scans and text from Guillermo del Toro’s personal notebook.
· Concept Art Gallery: Original designs and concepts for Hellboy II: The Golden Army’s costumes and sets.
· Hellboy: In Service Of The Demon: Over two hours of footage that takes fans into the creation of this film.
· Production Workshop: Professor Broom’s Puppet Theatre: A special look inside the opening sequence of the film including storyboards and animatics.
· Image Gallery Featuring Teaser Banners, One-Sheets and Poster Explorations
· DVD Rom: Hellboy II: The Golden ArmyScript
· Comic Book Builder: Create an original downloadable Hellboy adventure by selecting still images from the movie, dropping them into comic book layouts and adding text. The result can be e-mailed to friends or published via BD-Live buddy lists.
· U-Control: Universal’s exclusive signature feature U-Control allows viewers to delve into the making of the film with the click of the remote without ever leaving the movie.
· Scene Explorer: Schufften Goggle View: View scenes from the film as it progresses from storyboards and early renderings of the visual effects to the final film.
· Director’s Notebook: Fans will get an interactive glimpse at the director’s personal journal and view how early thematic concepts evolved into the final film. Includes an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro.
· Set Visits: Interactive vignettes provide information about key moments in the film.
· Comic Book Back-Story Interactive Feature: Clickable motion pages provide back stories of the film’s characters.
The set also features BDLive! functionality, which will enable users to access new content as made available. Also included is a digital copy of the film for playback on other media.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an absolutely delightful and visually scrumptious piece of fantasy adventure, loaded with laughs, heart, and a sense of playfulness absent from the recent crop of super hero flicks. The Blu-ray from Universal does this wonderful film justice, with a reference quality presentation and a dizzying array of extras. Highly recommended.