The film begins with Dr. Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and a young Hellboy.  The doctor tells him the story of an ancient forest people whose king was offered a large force of mechanical monsters to fight humans. These monsters, called the Golden Army, numbered “seventy times seven” and wreaked such destruction that the king could not allow such a thing to happen again.  He took the crown, which when worn would give the wearer power over the Golden Army, and broke it into three pieces.  Two he kept for his race, and one he gave to the humans.  The prince, the king’s son, angered at the position that the people had been forced into, exiled himself and was not seen again.  Fast forward to the present day, and we find the prince poised to strike and take the last piece of the crown – the importance of which has been completely forgotten by all humans.  Well, almost all.

Hellboy II differs from the first movie in quite a few ways.  The plot has the same “we’ll go where the wind takes us” quality as the first, but it seems more disjointed. Perhaps such is the life of a man-beast who came from the depths of Hell, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into good movie-making. However, this film has a subtext that the former did not. There is a great underlying story of the fight between organic and inorganic – Deus ex Naturalis versus Deus ex Machina. From the very beginning, the dichotomy between the peoples of Broom’s story, who are made of wood, allow beasts, who are made out of metal, to fight for them and against other wooden people. The whole reason for the beasts to be forged was because of the king’s remorse in losing his own people to fight. These monsters, the inorganic machines with no remorse, separated the people from the consequences of action, which parallels quite nicely to the modern parts of the film. Though the script never allows this to come into the light of day, it makes for an interesting message underneath the exterior trappings of action sequences.

The most notable change is the wide expansion of characters.  The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) hires Johann Krauss (Seth MacFarlane), a curious man, rather a curious voice, in some sort of scuba diving suit.  He is the only new member in the B.P.R.D.’s team for this film, but there are many characters that the audience only meets briefly.  While the lack of characterization and focus can be frustrating, the sheer number of characters, notable for their visual impact, make the film pop out with creativity and imagination.  Many of us have come to associate the nightmarish beings in all of their minutiae with del Toro’s vision, who is probably best known for his award winning work Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).  While the materialization of some of these characters shows a spirit that should have been reined in, the movie does not suffer too much for it.

Though subtle, some of the changes are in the beloved title character.  Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is much softer than the first movie.  While he was formerly occupied with getting the girl, Liz (Selma Blair), he has become more obsessed with his image, concerned that the public doesn’t like him and is even afraid of him.  Perhaps this reflects a sentimental shift found in the original comics, but it comes off as laughable and easily dismissible in the film.  While the fact that Hellboy sands down his horns to fit in has been in place since the first twenty minutes of the first movie, the more sensitive Hellboy of the second movie seems inauthentic.  Most curious is not the change to the neurotic Hellboy, but the change to the slapstick Hellboy.  Instead of echoing the dry character of the first film, the script causes the lead to err on the side of Men in Black in its visual, intentionally distracting, humor.

This is only indicative of the sap and silliness that end up plaguing the entire film.  Half of the main cast mentions love, love found, or love lost; Liz becomes the nagging housemate; Hellboy is at the butt of every verbal and visual joke;  Agent Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) becomes a caricature of his own ego and is underused in the story, and so on. Notable but not necessarily a demerit is the missing voice of David Hyde Pierce, unaccredited in the first film, as Abe Sapien. His voice fit perfectly the first time, and though the difference is minor in this film, it’s noticeable and lamentable. Perhaps the best performance of the supporting cast belongs to Selma Blair. Her character goes through some very stark revelations about herself and her relationship with Hellboy, and the inner turmoil she feels comes through clearly at several different points in the movie.

One character that has gone so far unmentioned was the most underwhelming of the entire cast. The evil Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) comes across as a confusing character. Is he the savior of his people, or is he power hungry? Or completely mad? While the former is able to punch through the script and be seen by the audience, Goss is almost completely deadpan, and brings little or no life to the role. Though the exiled prince displays amazing swordplay, he apparently had no time to brush up on his rhetorical skills, leaving the audience bored and wishing for the Scarlet Beast. Goss is out-emoted by his twin-on-the-screen Anna Walton, who plays Princess Nuala, though she doesn’t give a riveting performance, either.

At its core, the film is exhibitionist. Things happen just for the hell of it and slow down the movie. The number of characters attributes to this, but mostly comes through in the scenes that go on for too long. A funny scene happens in the middle of the movie between Hellboy and Abe Sapien, but it goes on for far too long and bogs down in the cheesiness of it. After the opening, there is a conversation between Manning and Abe as they walk through the monster-filled B.P.R.D. headquarters that is forced out longer than its recommended lifespan just so del Toro create some comedy that unfortunately falls flat.

The first Hellboy was arguably one of the best comic book movies to ever be filmed.  While it suffered from the weight of an entire mythos behind it, del Toro was able to cram the best of it into one film. Hellboy II‘s ailment was no different, but the approach to the film changed, and with it, much of the tone that fans of the first movie enjoyed. There is still a lot to enjoy here, but it feels lacking in too many areas to top the first film, which had quite a few flaws of its own. Here’s hoping that the third film, if it happens, combines the best of two worlds.