Hellboy II: The Golden Army (3-Disc Special Edition)

I was not a huge fan of the first Hellboy movie, so I didn’t bother to catch the follow-up in the theater. When Hellboy II: The Golden Army arrived in my mailbox, I was secretly hoping it would need to be passed on to someone else. No such luck, I was stuck with it. Now, I’m pleasantly surprised that I was. I’m a huge fan of The Dark Knight and consider it the best movie of 2008, but it’s also fun to see a movie that doesn’t subscribe to the Caped Crusader’s formula of turning superheroes into the stars of dark epics. Hellboy II: The Golden Army keeps the story moving and the tone light. At least as light as you can get when a demon fights an evil elf for control of an army of mechanical monsters that can destroy mankind.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is an everyman hero - that is if everyman had red skin, drank beer, smoked cigars, shot a huge gun called “Big Baby,” and had filed down horns on his head. Working for the government's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development, Hellboy fights with his girlfriend, pyrokinetic Liz (Selma Blair), and his boss, the bureaucrat Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor.) While many superhero films include humorous or ironic scenes, Hellboy II makes them the rule rather than the exception. This is a funny movie. The humor is mostly thanks to Perlman, great as a big kid who has genuine comic timing and can still put on a good fight every 15 or 20 minutes.

The BRPD is up against Prince Nuada (Luke Gross), an elf who is seeking the parts of a crown that will give him control of The Golden Army and rule of the real and mythical worlds. Nuada’s sister, Nuala (Anna Walton), doesn’t support her brother and ends up working with the BRPD to stop Nuada. That brings her into contact with Abe Sapian (Doug Jones) who is immediately smitten. Since Hellboy and Sapian both have girl trouble, they put aside fighting evil creatures and drown a few beers while singing Barry Manilow’s “I Can’t Smile Without You.” Picture Bruce Wayne doing that.

Writer/director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t let all the funny get in the way of the freaky creatures, though. This movie is loaded with them. Del Toro relies on a nice blend of costumes and stunts and limited computer effects, giving the mythic world a more grounded feel than we would have gotten from George Lucas and his orgy of things that aren’t really there. Many of the creatures echo Pan’s Labrynth, but del Toro has created a complete world and kids and adults will utter the odd “wow” during certain scenes.

That’s not to say del Toro reaches the level of Lord of the Rings here. Too many plot points are picked up and dropped, like Hellboy contemplating if he wants to fight for the humans against his “own kind.” Gross’ Nuada is a pretty amazing swordsman but he doesn’t come across as very menacing or scary. He should have been the deadly enforcer rather than the brains behind the badness. Also, Blair’s performance is, frankly, not good. She’s way too melodramatic and doesn’t hold up to Perlman, Jones, or the voice of Seth MacFarlane as the pompous gas in a diving bell, Johann Strauss.

Hellboy II doesn’t move the superhero movie into new territory, but it does buck the trend by not taking itself too seriously. It’s the anti-Superman Returns, more into the funny and the fighting than all the hard moral lessons or internal soul searching. Add in the kinds of characters and creatures that got Guillermo del Toro into The Hobbit’s director’s chair and this one fun time. Hellboy II: The Golden Army 3-Disc Special Edition does pretty much everything right for a DVD release. This is one of the better releases I’ve seen this year and will satisfy both hardcore and casual fans. One of the discs is a digital copy that you can put on your laptop or portable media player. I don’t know that I like the idea that they advertise this as part of a “3-Disc” set because people might think there is a full disc of extras rather than a copy of the movie, but having the ability to have the movie without lugging the disc around is a nice trend.

In addition to a super crisp 1.85 to 1 aspect widescreen version of the movie on Disc 1, you get two commentary tracks. No producers or assistant camera operators involved, either. The first commentary is director Guillermo Del Toro solo. He’s great once you get used to the thick accent. The other track is by actors Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, and Luke Gross. Not exactly the A-team (Ron Perlman where are you?) but it’s entertaining anyway.

Many releases will limit their Disc 1 extras to the commentary tracks, but Hellboy II adds several other items which expand your enjoyment of the film. There are seven “Set Visits” that spend two to three minutes each on specific action sequences. They are primarily behind-the-scenes of the filming and don’t actually show the finished product for the scenes, which is unusual. Still, it’s a nice look at how many real creatures and stunts were used rather than CGI.

Disc 1 also contains six mediocre deleted scenes; most are one minute or less. Nothing spectacular here, but del Toro provides an optional commentary. The director also leads a tour of the “Troll Market” set in a 12 minute featurette. The amazing thing about the set is that del Toro speaks about different pieces on the set and their background despite the fact that they don’t have much if any screen time in the actual film. The level of detail is a testament to his desire to create an immersive world. The final item on Disc 1 is a five minute “Animated Zinco Epiilogue Comic.” The title is odd and either the epilogue comic is intentionally unclear or I just don’t know enough about the Hellboy world to make sense of it.

Disc 2 contains the remainder of the extras. The centerpiece is an excellent making-of documentary that lasts longer than the movie itself. While del Toro brought his movie in at what must have been a contractually obligated two hours (one hour, 59 minutes, 47 seconds to be exact), “Hellboy: In Service of the Demon” clocks in at two hours and 34 minutes. It covers, well, pretty much everything. It can be watched in 19 different chapters or as one long orgy of behind-the-scenes insight. This is one of the best “making-of” featurettes I’ve seen and a real treat for fans and casual viewers alike, although the casual viewer may be overwhelmed.

One of the film’s best scenes is the puppet battle at the beginning of the movie between the humans and the elves. It sounds silly, but it’s pretty freakin’ cool. The extras include the opportuinity to see del Toro’s original sketches for the scene, more elaborate storyboards, and the finished product all on one screen. Del Toro also provides an optional commentary and lets you in on why they did the scene with puppets rather than people, like he first wanted (hint: money talks.)

The extras just keep on coming. There is a “Director’s Notebook” function that lets you look through what is purportedly del Toro’s notebook with sketches and ideas. As he says in the introduction, “speaking Spanish helps.” Every few pages you can click on a picture and a two to three minute video pops up further showing the creation of a particular character or scene. There is also a concept art gallery that can be seen as a slideshow. This always bores me, but Hellboy comic creator Mike Mignola narrates his section of concept art which makes it much more interesting.

The last couple of items are some posters or poster concepts for the movie from around the world. Unfortunately, they don’t indicate what country they are from, so you have to guess from the printing on the poster. It’s actually pretty cool, since the country dictates the style and it’s just interesting to see what plays in Japan or Brazil rather than in the good old USA. There is also a brief introduction to the second disc by del Toro who also pops up to provide intros to almost all the extras. He’s the big star of the extras rather than Perlman or any actor. Finally, if you slip the disc in a DVD Rom drive, you get a copy of the script.

This is just the way superhero DVDs should be done. Tons of extras, lots of behind-the-scenes stuff, two commentaries, a copy for your computer, the whole shebang. If I liked the movie a little more (it was good, but not great), I’d probably give the disc part the top rating. It comes close though, and is a no-brainer for fans of del Toro’s, superhero movies, or the Hellboy character.