Out of all the comic book based movies that have been released over the last several years, I can only think of one that I just knew would have difficulty striking a chord with audiences; and yet, I found myself to be completely surprised when the end result turned out to be a great success. The film I am referring to was the 2004 surprise hit, “Hellboy” starring Ron Perlman as a bright red, demonic monster hunter. Before the original film arrived in theaters, the promotional images looked impressive, especially the make-up effects work being done to create Hellboy’s devilish visage; which was something I never thought would look even remotely realistic. Yet, somehow what I once thought impossible, without going cheesy, B-movie-esque with the whole production, was brought to an entertaining reality. With the release of “Hellboy” and its anxiously awaited sequel “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”, both films directed by critically acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro (“Blade 2”), a once obscure comic book hero has broken into the mainstream, and a new franchise is taking Hollywood by storm.

“Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” finds our crimson hero (Ron Perlman) grappling with personal issues centering around his fiery relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) and his desire to become widely known and accepted by the public that still believes him to be a myth. Meanwhile, an ancient truce is unraveling, and dark forces, led by the power hungry Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), are gathering to wage a devastating war upon humanity the likes of which have never been seen.

Earlier in 2008, when the first trailers started appearing to signal the upcoming arrival of “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”, I was excited about seeing the movie for two reasons. One, the original film was so much fun and a truly great comic book adaptation; and two, from what I could tell of the story from the previews, the second film looked as if it was going to be another exciting adventure starring our favorite demonic devil buster, and early buzz had it sounding as if it could even be a bit better than its predecessor. From my perspective, I don’t know if I can say that this is one of those rare instances where the sequel surpasses the original film, but I do believe that it is easily an equal to “Hellboy” in every way.

The story for the original film was two-fold, first and foremost, it seemed to be a very faithful film adaptation of a semi-popular Dark Horse comic book that had yet to break into the mainstream with the heroes of DC Comics or Marvel; secondly, it was a terrific jumping on point for typical movie audiences (obviously), and for those comic book fans that had not been introduced to the character yet, and perhaps had only heard about him in passing or whatever the case may be. With the first film, writer Guillermo Del Toro obviously had to get the obligatory origin tale out of the way for audiences to be able to relate to and understand this rather atypical superhero. With “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”, Del Toro (once again returning as writer and director) was able to essentially dispense with the pleasantries, so to speak, and just dive into the two main driving forces of the story.

The primary plot of the film, in my opinion, centers on Hellboy and Liz’s chaotic romance, and his need for acceptance from anyone and everyone around him. Generally, I get kind of annoyed when comic book films make a romance the focal point of the story (for example, the Spider-Man series; great films, too much romance though), yet in this instance the romantic angle was handled with an appropriate dosage of humor and seriousness, that it never feels too heavy-handed or bogs the story down in any way. The secondary plot revolved around Prince Nuada’s bid for power in his realm, and his quest for vengeance upon the human world. It was this latter storyline that propelled the action/adventure aspect of the story, while the former provided the dramatic element needed to keep the film interesting.

What was nice about having these two major plots running concurrently throughout the movie was the fact that Del Toro was wise enough to intertwine them at various points throughout the duration of the film. Sometimes when two major plot lines drive a story, they tend to not intersect with each other all that much, and at times this can result in one of the stories not feeling quite as resolved as the other (most likely as an attempt to cash in on a sequel). For “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” the two plots both come to satisfying conclusions providing the audience with a sense of resolution should another sequel not occur; while still leaving enough of an opening for a follow-up should the opportunity arise.

If I were to judge “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” purely from a visual effects standpoint, then it is by far a superior film to the original. Of course this is the result of a heftier budget, thanks in no small part to the success of “Hellboy”. Even with a sizeable budget increase, Del Toro continues his somewhat rebellious ways within Hollywood, by taking the road less traveled these days. Meaning that he does not solely rely upon CGI to create his fantastical world of creatures. Sure there was a generous amount of CGI dispersed throughout the film, and without a doubt it all looked excellent; however, assisting the CGI, Guillermo Del Toro opted to use a large array of practical effects for many of the creatures he wished to bring to life. Make no mistake when you see this movie the CGI is virtually impeccable, but the costumes and creature designs created for the practical (on-set) side of things is simply astounding. After watching this film, it’s easy to understand why Hollywood has branded Guillermo as being a visionary director from his work on both “Pan’s Labyrinth” and now “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”.

The actors and actresses in this film are all top-notch, and considering that roughly 85% of them are wearing some form of prosthetics or heavy make-up or something of the sort, it’s surprising how strong the performances turned out. Ron Perlman (“Hellboy”) as the titular character, once again nails the role perfectly. I firmly believe that there is no other actor in Hollywood that could have captured this role any better than Ron has; from his sardonic wit, gruff voice, and the fact that he looked as if he simply walked off the comic book page, there is no doubt in my mind that Ron Perlman was born to be Hellboy. Selma Blair reprises her role as Liz Sherman. No longer a victim of her powers, Liz is in complete control, and has accepted her role in protecting humanity from those who wish to do it harm. Even though she has conquered one problem, she still has to deal with her often immature boyfriend, Hellboy, which causes more than just a few fiery arguments to say the least. It is their frequently heated relationship that makes for some of the most fun and entertaining moments of dialogue within the film.

The extremely talented, yet rarely heard from, Doug Jones once again personifies Abe Sapien; but this time Doug actually gets to provide the voice for the character as well. In the previous film, Doug’s vocal performance was replaced by actor David Hyde Pierce (TV’s “Frasier”), much like his performance in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” when Laurence Fishburne was brought in to provide the voice for the Surfer, while Doug provided the physical performance for the character. Luckily, Doug’s voice is similar to David’s so if a person isn’t paying close enough attention, or if it’s been a while since they last watched the first film, they’d never even know it was another actor’s voice providing the line readings. This does beg one question though. If Doug and David’s voices were so similar, then why have David provide the voice in the first place, or for that matter why switch to Doug for the sequel? Perhaps, David Hyde Pierce wasn’t available at the time to work on this film. Who knows? Lastly, Luke Goss (“Blade 2”) as the villainous Prince Nuada, gave a performance that was equal parts dangerous and creepy weird, oftentimes he was both at the same time. The only thing that I felt was odd about Luke’s performance was that he sometimes seemed to have a slight accent in his delivery, yet other times nothing out of the ordinary. Other than those sporadic bits of an accent, I thought Luke was a good choice for the lead villain, and that he gave a fairly strong, if not slightly inconsistent performance.

“Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” is an absolutely entertaining, action-packed adventure that perfectly expands upon everything that was great about the original film without ever seeming repetitive or unoriginal. While not necessarily surpassing the original film, this movie doesn’t fall short of it either, which is an achievement for any sequel to attain.

“Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” is rated PG-13 for violence and language.