I absolutely loved the first "Hellboy" film and thought it was one of the better releases of 2004. At the time I didn't expect a sequel considering the $66 million dollar film had done only $60 million domestically. However, the strong sales of the subsequent video releases and director Guillermo del Toro's stock rising after the critical success of "Pan' Labyrinth" provided what I had thought was unthinkable; a sequel to "Hellboy." With Ron Perlman returning as the Nazi-summoned demon who now fights the good fight for the United States Government, "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" is another engaging film that was a higher profile release with a slightly larger budget and greater expectations. Whereas the first film was one of my favorite pictures the year it was released, "Hellboy 2" became one of my most eagerly awaited films of this year, 2008.
Beginning with a little background, the character of Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is summoned to Earth by Nazi cultists who work along with Rasputin to summon a powerful demon who will have the ability and destiny of destroying the human race. Unfortunately for the Nazis, the United States Army steps in and stops their evil plot, but not before Hellboy is summoned to our world. He is ‘adopted' by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (William Hurt) and raised to become a good citizen who exists in secret to aid the US Government in combating the supernatural forces that exist outside of the knowledge of the average citizen. Hellboy becomes teamed up with his girlfriend, the self immolating Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and the humanoid fish Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones). Under the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy, Abe and Liz report directly to Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), for whom Hellboy dislikes.
In the second film, Hellboy and Liz are on shakey ground in their relationship and their arguments can be quite destructive to the surrounding environment. Doors are destroyed and they are on the verge of breaking up. Adding to his frustrations, Hellboy is becoming more discontent with living secretly at the BPRD and this causes further frustrations for Manning who tries to bribe Hellboy with Cuban cigars to keep the large red demon from signing autographs and posing for pictures in a world where YouTube is ready to promote the poorly kept secret of Hellboy from full public disclosure. Abe continues to work closely with the rest of the BPRD and is the voice or reason and intelligence for the team as they defeat the things that go bump in the night.
The antagonist of the film is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) has become tired of living a secret life as well and he wants to return the Elf kingdom to their rightful place above ground. To do this, he desires to collect the three pieces of a crown that will allow him to awaken the Golden Army, an unstoppable force of 4,900 clockwork soldiers that could decimate mankind. Prince Nuada uses his troll friend Mr. Wink (Brian Steele) to reclaim the first piece from a New York auction house and then kills his father King Balor (Roy Dotrice) to gain the second piece. The third and final piece of the crown is kept safe by his twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who has captured Abe's heart and is being kept safe at the secret underground headquarters of the BPRD. To help stop Nuada from awakening the Golden Army, the ectoplasmic entity of Dr. Johann Krauss (Seth MacFarlane) joins the team.
The film sends Hellboy and his team against a number of villains and to many exotic locations of the Underworld. These conflicts and locations show the artistic nature of del Toro and provide a larger universe to allow "Hellboy 2" to become a grander looking experience than its predecessor. The Troll Market and the resting place of the Golden Army provide strong backdrops to action-filled scenes that show off the fast-paced story. Hellboy's battles against the oversized, yet expressive Mr. Wink and the gigantic Forest God are better moments that what was mustered up during the first film. In many regards, "Hellboy 2" is a faster and more exciting film that "Hellboy" and its ambitions pay off greatly for del Toro. It is easily a more exciting roller coaster ride.
I have some qualms about "Hellboy 2," however. The intentions to add more depth and heart to the characters provide an uneven narrative that water down the thrill ride. Perhaps I have just gotten tired of the subplots involving pregnancy and settling down for characters. It is beginning to feel overused and cliché and I was distraught by having Hellboy and Liz expecting and the large red monkey soon to be a father. Having the two fight and argue was fun, but the fatherhood and family theme felt out of place in this film. I want to see Hellboy a surly and confident hero who begrudgingly does what Manning says and rebels when the timing suits him. I didn't want to watch another movie that concentrated more on love and happiness. "Pan's Labyrinth" was a dark and foreboding story that was unflinching in its narrative. "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" almost felt like it was trying a little too hard to be cute. I'll admit to laughing hard when a drunken duo of Hellboy and Abe sang along to "I Can't Smile Without You," but it should have stopped there.
This is still one hell of a ride, regardless of my slight dislike of the patriarchal and romantic storylines that dilute the film. Ron Perlman is the only actor that can portray Hellboy and the veteran actor of working behind latex and makeup has mastered the role and I certainly hope for a sequel so that Perlman may once again bring Red to life. Guillermo del Toro is a very artistic and stylish director and this was a film he desperately wanted to do and his skills as a director show. Those awaiting "The Hobbit" are surely in for a treat. This is an action packed adventure that builds rather nicely upon the first film and delivers more bang for the buck than that very entertaining debut of Hellboy. I have some dislikes in regards to "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army," but it is still one of the absolute best comic book movies yet made and bested perhaps only by "The Dark Knight."
"Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" fully populates my 16x9 television and shows off the detail and coloring that is only possible with Blu-ray. You can see the textures of both Hellboy and Abe's skin and the red and blue coloring is as deep and as beautiful as anything you will see on the high definition format. I'm trying to think of another release that is as gorgeous to look and and I'm hard pressed to think of one. Other details such as the tiny tooth fairies or the incredible sets used in the film stand out. Even the spines of the books in Abe's library look amazing. The scene where the Forest God succumbs is truly spectacular to look at and may be one of the best moments to show off high definition. Black levels are incredibly strong and shadow detail does not suffer in the least during even the darkest moments in the film. The source print is pristine and perfect. "Hellboy 2" may not be the best looking title on Blu-ray, but it is certainly one of them. This is visually flawless.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is equally impressive. I believe this is the first title that uses all seven channels provided by DTS-HD and "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" is aggressive and engaging throughout the entire running length of the film. One scene that stands out to show off the audio is the Troll Market. Before the big fight between Red and my namesake Wink, the market is alive with so much atmospheric and directional sound information that it is startling. Once the two big brawlers begin pounding on each other, the .1 LFE channel erupts and the awe-inspiring sound mix matches the stunning visuals nicely. The musical score by Danny Elfman sounds stunning and while I am a huge fan of Elfman's work, this is not one of my favorite scores, but it sounds top notch. Movement between the speakers is clean and none of the sounds feel forced. Dialogue is perfect. Spanish and French DTS 5.1 surround is also included. This is an amazing sounding release.
Universal has pulled out all of the stops for the Blu-ray release of "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army." The two disc special edition features all of the bells and whistles provided by Blu-ray and also includes a Digital Copy of the film that can be installed on any PC or Mac personal computer. I wish I had just a little more free space on my Zune to take Hellboy on a road trip, but the install went pretty seamless to my PC and the quality is good. There are options to install via the Windows Media Player or iTunes. As a Microsoft person, I recommend the more portable Windows Media Player install and will forever refuse to fall prey to the relentless machine known as iTunes. I still have nightmares of the Apple install program begging me to install Safari and other bloatware.
The first disc features U-Control functionality for the film. "Hellboy 2" contains four different sub-features that are active during U-Control. The first, Scene Explorer: Schuften Goggle View is active during three of the films twenty chapters. This was one of the higher touted features on the disc and it brings up two display windows that shows the film through various stages of post production. I actually enjoyed this and wish there were more than three chapters included to tinker with. The Director's Notebook populates five chapters and brings up a graphical representation of del Toro's notebook and clicking some on-screen icons brings up nice interview segments with the director.
The remaining two U-Control options are a little more standard to other Universal releases. The five Set Visits takes the viewer away from the film and to some very nice high definition behind-the-scenes moments featuring del Toro and crew as they work on the film. I highly recommend these, but I suggest you access them through the U-Control menu and not by sitting through the entire film to discover them. The Concept Art Gallery is sparse as well and found during just four chapters. The artwork is very impressive and I do enjoy the visual aspects of del Toro's films. While Universal has included four U-Control items, they are pretty sparse and unless you turn them all on at once, you will have long periods of time with nothing. It really is easier accessing them from the U-Control menu and not by watching the film.
The first disc contains two audio commentary tracks. The first Feature Commentary with Director Guillermo del Toro is a very good listen, but some may find difficulty in following along with the director's strong Hispanic accent. It begins with a nice introduction by the filmmaker and you will learn a good deal about the film and the men and women who brought this labor of love to cinemas. Mr. del Toro has an entertaining demeanor and I do recommend this commentary for anybody who loves the "Hellboy" films. The second Feature Commentary with Cast Members Jaffrey Tambor, Selma Blair and Luke Goss is included as well and I plan on listening to this when the DVD screener for the film finally arrives. I must say I was a little upset Ron Perlman didn't help out with either commentary track.
The second disc is a DVD and is provided with the stand-alone special features. This DVD begins with the Prologue (:23) where del Toro introduces the special features and welcomes you to the second disc. I'm guessing this is identical to the second disc that will eventually arrive with the 2-disc DVD set and I must say I'm a little miffed that the Blu-ray special edition is half DVD. Hellboy: In Service of the Demon (2:34:51) is a wonderful making of documentary. I cannot say enough about it. I had planned on getting my review posted on Tuesday morning, but this sucked me in and I think this could be one of the finest making of documentaries ever produced. It is broken into nineteen chapters and you can play them individually if you like. Some Additional Footage can be found within its very lengthy running time and I cannot stress enough that you take time and watch this. It really is amazing and almost makes up for the fact it is on a DVD platter.
Not much is left on the bonus features disc after the two and a half hour making of feature. The Marketing Campaign contains a Print Gallery and Poster Explorations. The print gallery contains a plethora of images used to promote the film and you can either step through the images or let them play in an automated slideshow. There were a surprising number of them and Universal definitely ponied up some cash to promote "Hellboy 2." The second gallery are the various posters that were used to promote the film. Hellboy in the white hoodie and bling was disconcerting. Finally, the DVD-ROM: Script feature contains the entire filming script in digital form and this is accessible when you insert the disc to download your digital copy of the film.
"Hellboy 2" is easily one of the best releases yet to hit Blu-ray. I'm having an incredibly hard time thinking of a release that sounds as good or looks as amazing as this title. Just take a moment and look at the colors and textures of Abe's aquatic-friendly skin. It is stunning. Listen to the sound during the fight against the Golden Army and you can't help but smile at high volumes. Go ahead and take the challenge. Find me another disc that is better than this release technically. The bonus features includes a nice smattering of next-gen features that include U-Control and BD-Live and will require Profile 1.1 or 2.0 machines to fully enjoy. The making-of documentary could very well be the best one ever created. I kid you not. The story itself is first rate and I did enjoy "The Dark Knight" more, but this may be my second favorite film of 2008 and while there are a few things I don't fully embrace, del Toro's labor of love is a solid and highly entertaining experience. I pray for a third film.