With Dark Knight making the serious and semi-realistic look so hot right now, it’s interesting to see that the man who brought us the deliciously dark and effecting Pan’s Labyrinth has chosen to go in the opposite direction with a bright and zany Hellboy II. It’s like Dark Knight is the layered, ominous oil painting with hidden depths that you can stare at for hours, and Hellboy is one of those colouring-in books with thick black outlines that’s vivid and fun.
But fear not - though it’s less layered than the mighty Knight, Hellboy’s colouring-in hasn’t been done with an unsharpened pencil in a haphazard and ugly fashion (Jumper) or coloured the same as the previous page only with less heart and imagination (Prince Caspian). Or coloured in for 150 minutes relentlessly with the same mental crayon until the paper’s all ripped and chewed up into this big time-wasting mess (Pirates…)
No, Del Toro has instead chosen a fun picture and taken a great deal of care and attention over the details. Something a bit odd but sparkling with energy and imagination, that doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t scrimp on the effort either. Following a familiar fantasy quest-esque formula, Hellboy II: The Golden Army sees Hellboy fight a, er, golden army, as well as his own battle to be accepted by humans and a fiery relationship with girlfriend Liz (a rather gaunt Selma Blair who spends a little too much time in big black knickers). He’s helped along the way by Abe Sapien (like Niles from Frasier, only a fish-man) and a new boss Johann Krauss, a sort of vapour in a suit.
If it’s sounding a bit strange, it is, but that’s just something you get used to as the number of weird and wonderful creatures matches that of any good Jim Henson production, Del Toro spending probably longer than he should on designs that, quite often, are only seen for a few seconds. The market scene in particular is probably worth several watches, just to catch every last non-CGI detail (Del Toro mostly preferring old fashioned puppetry compared to CGI) and the little tooth fairies are particularly memorable as being cute and nightmarish all at the same time.
It’s bonkers fantasy done well, but still bonkers fantasy none-the-less, and there isn’t too much to separate it from the Jim Henson experience of watching a Labyrinth or Dark Crystal, or endlessly watching that bit in Star Wars where the aliens are playing instruments in the bar. Enjoyable, well crafted, but no real wow-factor, Hellboy II gains itself a CF1. Let’s let Del Torro concentrate on all things Hobbit now.