When the topic of great sequels comes up, I’m always shocked that Hellboy II rarely gets tossed into the hat. The first installment blew a cool breeze into the superhero genre, which was only just starting to recover from Joel Schumacher’s Batman poopy-scoopers . This second Hell-ride takes that promise and actually builds on it, deepening the character relationships and improving the technical aspects, all without drowning everything in sound and fury. So, why doesn’t Hellboy II get its due? Put that in the back of your mind, and we’ll circle around to it in a bit.
Before I go any further, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the very first Hellboy. To be clear, I’m not talking about the 2019 reboot with David Harbour–that thing was straight monkey-doo casserole, y’all. Anyway, if you haven’t seen Ron Perlman’s first go at the character, get yourself to streaming! It’s a fun little ride. With that said, this sequel hits the ground running, featuring an all-new story that has a strong Tolkien vibe to it. We begin with a flashback, and a welcome cameo from the late John Hurt, as Dr. Broom, Hellboy’s adopted dad. Broom reads his son a bedtime fable that sets up the events of this film. (Side note: Just about every time a movie kicks off with such an avalanche of exposition, it’s a clear sign we’re headed to the Land of Clunky Screenwriting. This is an exception to that rule, mainly because it has John Hurt narrating and Guillermo Del Toro supplying the visuals. Those two could probably make a Bronx phonebook look and sound interesting.)
Broom’s story recounts the ancient kingdom of Elfland, a dominion of fantastical creatures. After many costly wars with the human race, a truce is forged, wherein the Elfland king disbands his mechanical army and stores its power within a golden crown. Cut to the present day, and we find that Nuada (Luke Goss), the hotheaded Elfland prince, has grown weary of peace at any price. He seeks to reawaken the Golden Army and unleash it upon the Earth. This puts him at odds with Nuala (Anna Walton), his kind, thoughtful twin sister.
Meanwhile, things are getting testy at the BPRD. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) find themselves dealing with major compatibility issues. The Reader’s Digest version: He’s a man-baby slob, and she’s ready for him to simmer down and settle in for the long haul. Their workplace environment only gets dicier with the arrival of a testy new boss: Johann Krauss is a supernatural German scientist, voiced by Seth McFarlane. Krauss sounds like something off of Hogan’s Heroes and resembles a steampunk spacesuit crossed with Tupperware. In a film loaded with imagination, Krauss is truly a marvel to behold.
On the subject of imagination, del Toro and his effects team fill the movie with eye-popping visuals that hold up remarkably well. Whether it’s the team’s journey into a sprawling troll market, a massive set piece with a raging earth elemental, or even a cluttered battle with the titular mech-army, Hellboy II delivers innovative technical wizardry that never hinders telling a good story.
Much of that story involves the sudden vulnerability of Hellboy and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). The former is worried over alienating the love of his life, while the latter frets over whether he can even keep his new soulmate alive. Del Toro stages a touching moment in which the lovestruck buddies swill beer and sing along with Barry Manilow in attempt to drown their sorrows. In many other films, such a scene would feel obnoxious and cute, but here it seems like exactly what these supernatural goofballs should do.
And that’s the thing: If Howard Hawks tells us that a great movie has three great scenes and no bad scenes, where does that put Hellboy II? It has tons of great little moments, and there isn’t a false note anywhere. Ron Perlman was made to play Hellboy, and it will be absolutely shameful if he never gets to again. So, why doesn’t this movie get the credit it deserves? It could be that Del Toro has gone on to make even more acclaimed films, even winning the Oscar for The Shape of Water. Maybe Hellboy has been lost in the shuffle. Or, the legacy of the character could’ve been tarnished by that awful reboot. Either way, this is still one of the best sequels ever made. It may not quite be on the level of Empire Strikes Back or Godfather II, but Hellboy II should still be in that discussion.
120 min. PG-13. Paramount Plus.