Opening with a dark story about a mythical army read to the title character as a youngster, "Hellboy II"'s opening is quite promising. I thought the first film was an enjoyable sci-fi action romp, but a little too goofy and rambling. The second film is darker, bigger, more imaginative and pushes forward with greater urgency than the first picture. The film still retains welcome touches of dark humor, but wisely spreads the jokes a little further.
This time around, Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz (Selma Blair) and Abe (Doug Jones) are still working for a paranormal arm of the FBI, located in New Jersey. Elsewhere, the ancient Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) returns to Earth in order to try and seize control of all parts of a crown that will allow him to take control of an invincible Golden Army, breaking the truce with humans that has existed for thousands of years.
The only thing standing in the way of the Prince's quest is his twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who escapes and comes under the protection of Hellboy and his team, which now includes the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss (voiced by "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane) However, given the mental link between the twins, it's not long before the Prince unleashes all manner of beasts (including a gigantic nature elemental) upon Manhattan in a search for the last piece of the crown.
The picture is an improvement over the first film on many levels (the second film really addresses just about all the issues I had with the first film), from the visuals (production design, creature design, effects and other technical credits are exceptional and incredibly inspired) to the action sequences (the battle scene with the nature elemental manages to go from thrilling to moving) to the writing (characters feel more developed this time around) to performances (Blair is much improved and Jones fills in nicely for David Hyde Pierce.)
"Hellboy 2" is truly a wonderful film, although I think as enjoyable as the story was, my interest was also hooked by the film's imaginative visuals (which have a more epic feel - three times as much money was spent on the sets for the sequel); every creature seemed more wild than the previous, and some of the sets (such as a troll market under the Brooklyn Bridge) are simply marvelous. However, what I thought also really set the film apart from the usual Summer blockbuster were moments that were surprisingly moving and powerful. Additionally, despite many scenes that threaten to become too busy, the film rarely starts to seem too chaotic or overwhelming.
While I didn't dislike the original (more than anything, I was rather indifferent about it), I was initially pretty skeptical when I heard a sequel was being made. However, if a third film in the series can be anywhere near as good as this sequel, I'd be thrilled to see another "Hellboy" film sooner than later.
VIDEO: Universal presents "Hellboy 2" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a delightful transfer of the film, which certainly shows off the hard work that went into creating the world of the movie. Sharpness and detail are marvelous, as fine details of the sets and costumes are often clearly visible. Aside from a few minor touches of pixelation in a few darker scenes, the film looked smooth and clean, with no edge enhancement or print flaws. Colors looked beautiful, appearing bold, precise and well-saturated. Black level remained strong, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding, putting the surrounds to near-constant use for various effects, ambiance and reinforcement of Danny Elfman's wonderful score. Overall, this is a fun, aggressive presentation that, like the film, is busy without being overwhelming or chaotic. Audio quality is terrific, with punchy effects and clear, crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Guillermo Del Toro offers one commentary track, while actors Selma Blair, Jeffrey Ross and Luke Goss chat on another track.
"Troll Market Tour" is a 12-minute tour with the director through the Troll Market set. Given how densely packed the scenes in the Troll Market are with different fascinating props, it's nice to be able to take a closer look at some of the elements of the scene. We also hear more about how Del Toro and crew worked within the location, as well as some insights on set design and what inspired specific elements of the set. Seven set tours last a few minutes each and take a brief look behind-the-scenes at specific scenes. The first disc also offers an animated comic and 6 deleted scenes w/commentary.
While the first disc offers a great selection of bonus features, the second disc is certainly not light on extras, either. We start with "In Service of the Demon", a 157-minute documentary looking into the making of the feature. No stone is left unturned during this fantastic exploration of the film, which starts with a terrific look into all aspects of pre-production, including a good deal of time spent in meetings with the crew deep in discussion. Much of the middle is spent on-set, with the cast and crew working out and rehearsing scenes, as well as trying to also plan elements like effects (a major effects action sequence that takes place late in the movie with no effects in is fun to see) and sets. The last chunk follows the crew into post-production, looking into a few aspects, like voice recording (Seth McFarlane is interviewed) and digital effects (and given that the film's budget was lesser than most major Summer movies these days, creative steps had to be taken.) Much of the segment is spent looking into the film's enjoyable FX work.
Also included on the second disc is a thumbnail progression looking at the storyboards for the first scene (w/commentary), the director's notebook, a gallery, poster gallery, poster concept gallery and DVD-ROM script. A digital copy of the film is included on a third disc.
Final Thoughts: The most imaginative Summer blockbuster/action film in recent memory, "Hellboy 2" is a fantastic film and - to my surprise - one of my favorite films of 2008. The DVD set boasts excellent video quality, very good audio and a giant selection of supplemental features. Highly recommended.
The Film A