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More so than its predecessor, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an arresting visual experience with a loose story centered on the titular character and the army of paranormal investigators at the BRPD. The influence of Guillermo del Toro on the franchise, lifted from the pages of Dark Horse comics, has brought it to a more mainstream audience and amplified what it is to be different. The original film was a modest success for Sony and the ailing Revolution Studios, after passing on the sequel, Universal picked up the rights and brings us one of the top comic book movies of the year, so far.

Hellboy II manages to surpass its original installment, something that’s not easy to do, but becoming more common recently, in nearly all aspects. While the plot is still a prime excuse to link together fight scenes, the background story still has some muster and a mythological base treats fans of two different genres.

Long ago an elf king commissioned goblins to create an indestructible army commanded by a crown. The Golden Army was so destructive and indestructible that it nearly annihilated all of mankind and led to a truce between the two parties, the humans taking the cities, the elves taking the forests. While most of the elf population took this truce to heart for each generation, the king’s son Price Nuada (Luke Goss) drifted into exile only to turn up in the present day with the urge to command the army for himself and destroy the humans.

The antagonist is a bit weak, although its hard to top the terrorizing effects of undead Nazi’s from the first film. What really shines here is the character development of Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) and their struggling relationship. The writing has been tightened significantly with Perlman delivering one-liners like any leading man and making them count. Both Liz and Abe (Doug Jones) receive expanded parts in relation to the original, new character Johann Kraus (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) really brings a bit of freshness to the film.

The film also maintains aspects of the comic book’s back-story and mythology including more and more allusions that Hellboy will be the destructor of our world, and when the pregnant Liz hears this as a choice between Hellboy living and dying she understandably choices his life over, what may be, everyone else’s. While a common theme of the character, del Toro again tries to play up the fact that the world will never accept Hellboy, even when he, Abe, and the BRPD are ousted into the public eye. The red-skinned one once again contemplates his position within human society and if he can ever survive and be accepted.

Perlman loses himself in the role and makes the doubters who initially opposed him for the role eat a good sized helping of crow as he further evolves the character down new paths. He’s able to make a giant red demon into a humanized character, naïve in relationships, and sticking it to authority figures much to the dismay of his overseer Manning (Jeffrey Tambor).

As mentioned previously, the visual imagery of the film is stunning with some major holdovers from del Toro’s Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth including the creepy, yet enticing Angel of Death near the climax of the film. The battle between our heroes and the Golden Army is also very well choreographed and a visual masterpiece.

When it’s all said and done, the Hellboy series continues on its high road (as long as we don’t count videogames) and manages to outdo the original film in a planned trilogy in nearly every category from writing to action to character development. One can only hope that the next film capitalizes on this one’s success and high points and continues to climb upwards.