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Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada)

God, we love Guillermo del Toro. He talks about cinema so passionately and so intelligently. Every time one of his films comes out, we’re willing him on to success. Which is why it pains us to admit that Hellboy 2 is a little bit of a disappointment. The big fella’s first adaptation of the Mike Mignola comic laid a solid foundation for his labour-of-love franchise, but part two never quite becomes the world-conquering triumph you’re hoping for.

The plot’s the problem. Luke Goss is Elf-prince bad guy Nuada, who plans to reignite a war between humanity and the underground realm by assembling a magic crown and reactivating an army of mechanical warriors. Maybe it’s because Hellboy’s father figure Professor Broom rattles off this backstory as a child’s bedtime yarn, but this impending war-to-end-all-wars never really stops feeling like a fairytale and starts feeling like a palpable and immediate threat. It doesn’t help that Goss’s pale-faced villain is as anaemic as he looks (or that he keeps saying he’s “returned”, but doesn’t appear to have actually been anywhere) and leaves you wondering “Er, why now, exactly?”

Fortunately, del Toro is blessed with an incredibly fertile imagination and is a masterful technician, one of the few capable of realising the beautiful lunacy he scribbles in his sketchbooks. There are sequences here that are genuinely breathtaking, particularly Hellboy’s visit to a troll market, a cavalcade of weird and wonderful creatures that you can happily rewind and watch a dozen times.

As ever with del Toro, the world of the film is visually coherent: the palette of red and gold echoes both the hero and that indestructible army, and the production design is sewn together with a thread of clockwork imagery, that’s as intricate as the workings of an antique watch.

But it’s the characters that win the day – when it comes to comic book movies, only the Spider-Manfranchise has more heart. Red and Liz are now a proper couple, with all the problems that entails. Their battles are a joy to watch, but even they are eclipsed by Hellboy’s male-bonding session with lovelorn aquatic buddy Abe Sapien, replete with out-of-tune singing along to Barry Manilow. So, while the generic fantasy storyline may underwhelm, Hellboy 2 is still a must-watch for all romantic freaks.
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