Adolescent pulp fantasia meets sentimental married life in Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his 2004 working-class superhero movie Hellboy. Chomping on his cigar and launching into battle with all the enthusiasm of a plumber digging around under the sink, Ron Perlman’s demonic good guy Hellboy is as appealing as lovable Sesame Street icon Oscar the Grouch. Though Hellboy II caters to the fanboy crowd that wants to see rock ’em, sock ’em monster fights, del Toro’s strength as a filmmaker is the same as Peter Jackson’s in The Lord of the Rings—an ability to create a legion of creatures and their fantasy worlds, then take the time to give these beasties a very specific look that defies CGI whitewashing. Their bodily imperfections, all warped faces and stretched-out limbs, are marvelous to behold, and Hellboy II even more than Pan’s Labyrinth is an indication of what’s to come when del Toro finally tackles The Hobbit. Hellboy and his team of heroes must stop the powers of darkness from unleashing the Golden Army, an indestructible force of wind-up clockwork people that lurch forward on springs and gears, while at the same time our hero has to deal with the pent-up frustrations of his girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and figure out why she’s so mad at him. For better or worse, the plots resolve themselves with the bare minimum of complications. Del Toro overcompensates with busy camerawork and slapstick humor (Hellboy mutters, “Aw, crap,” before getting punched through a wall one too many times), but the tone is set from the very first scene that this is a pop-up children’s book with lively pictures and a wide, wonderful rogues’ gallery of imaginatively Lovecraftian creatures.
Guillermo del Toro must surely supervise the transition of his cinematic tinker toys to DVD with the same expert eye for precision he brings to his animatronic ghoulies. A rich tapestry of impeccable small object detail and pitch-perfect black levels and color saturation, the image on this DVD is on par with that of the director’s earlier pictures, with no evidence of edge haloes or other digital nastiness. The audio is almost its equal, with booming surrounds and succulent discrete effects.
Del Toro takes delight in knowing the English language, but he trots out words like "plethora" and "patina" with a fanboy’s zeal that isn’t remotely show-offish. His commentary track is another passionate verbal diary throughout which he lays out all the intentions he had for this project; most notable is the moment he acknowledges his misgivings about the first Hellboy’s ending and villain character arc. Also on the first disc: a second commentary track with select cast, six deleted scenes with optional commentary track (one, oddly, is included without the green-screen effects filled in, though del Toro talks about the scene as if he were seeing the complete picture); a five-minute animated epilogue; a tour of the Troll Market by del Toro; and seven set visits. Del Toro appears on a prologue on the second disc, which includes an exhaustive featurette on the creation of Hellboy II that runs more than two-and-a-half hours, a glimpse of del Toro’s production notebook, a thumbnail storyboard comparison of the Gold Army backstory, image galleries and a DVD-Rom script. A third disc includes a digital copy of the film.
Give me the first Hellboy any day, but it’s always fun to see the new creatures del Toro comes up with for his netherworlds.