Story: The plot for Hellboy II was derivative and had a change in tone from the first movie that I wasn't too keen on. The movie opens with the set up for "The Golden Army" that has a backstory very reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. I could get past that, but then the movie begins taking a more comedic twist and heading off into a direction that reminded me of more of Army of Darkness than Lord of the Rings. The comedy however was lacking and ventured into trying to get the cheap laugh rather than being intelligent humor.
Guillermo del Toro [GDT] focuses so much on the art direction for this movie and telling a story using the visuals that the narrative, particularly as relayed in the dialog, begin losing any appeal. In fact, if the movie had a score-only track, I'd recommend just watching it that way. The drama elements of the piece were conveyed in more of a 'tell, not show' sort of way.
The characters in the movie lose something that made them so special in the first movie. They all become caricatures of who they were rather than be true to what they were. This is particularly true in the case of the character Manning, played by Jeffrey Tambor. He's a joke character and not a very funny one at that. Abe Sapien loses some of his mystique. And even the new character, Krauss, is rather one-dimensional and not given enough development so that when he makes a dramatic change of heart late in the movie, it's completely nonsensical.
The plot is easily telegraphed and there is nothing so special about it that I feel like the characters have come away from the events having changed. Although again, it's force fed down our throats that they have. There are a few glimpses of something of more substance there, especially when Hellboy is forced to take down the forest-god. I wish that idea of Hellboy regretting having to kill that creature had been played out more.
Presentation: The strengths of this movie come in the presentation. In spite of the script, the cast turn in solid performances. The fight choreography was very well done. The soundtrack(not counting the Barry Manilow gag which was very lame) was appropriate and some pretty good work for Danny Elfman, a composer I feel can be a bit repetitive in his work. Although, the music had a film noir sound to it at times that I felt was a bit mismatched to the movie.
The best part about the film though were the visuals which were amazing. The design of the creatures and the world around them were classic GDT. The execution of almost all of it was spot on and I'm surprised this movie didn't get an Oscar nomination for special effects. They carried this movie more than special effects should.
I'm looking forward to finishing the director's commentary. GDT always gives great information and regardless of my major problems with the film, I think he can offer great insight into film making and art in general. Should at least make me not feel so bad about buying the movie rather than just renting it. How was I to know? His last few movies were so incredibly good!