Last week, I reviewed the first Hellboy Animated flick, Sword of Storms, and was quick to point out its flaws.The pacing and style were all over the place; the directors were entirely unaware of their target audience; and the use of folklore was uninspired—not to mention vaguely racist. Still, the movie is fun and easy to enjoy when you leave your expectations and knowledge of Mike Mignola’s comic books out of mind. I went into the follow-up, Hellboy: Blood and Iron with low expectations, but I also held onto the hope that it would move through any growing pains and gain some confidence and style. While directors Tad Stones and Victor Cook have definitely made improvements, they can’t reach completely past the trappings of their context.
In this adventure, Professor Bruttenholm (Old Man John Hurt) recalls his unpleasant memories with a vampire, and sends Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), and Kate Corrigan to meet a senator who’s complaining about a haunted house. The agents are surprised that they are being sent on a low-priority mission, but when vampires and witch-queen Hecate show up, history and the present threaten to clash at a level demanding the work of the B.P.R.D.
Blood and Iron‘s shared flaws with Sword of Storms are the occasional stylistic missteps; the writing and animation try to capture children’s animation/del Toro on the one hand, and gothic horror/folklore on the other. Even in the opening scene, where Hellboy is stuck in a sewer surrounded by eerie atmosphere, we get lines like, “I’m up to my butt in crap.” I don’t mind humor mixed in with horror, but the conflicting “feel” of the movie does not serve it well.
That being said, Blood and Iron generally finds what tone it wants to set and uses it to explore its story, a tale of vampires and blood that is way more thought-out than the mishmash plot of Sword of Storms. The decision to include the goddess Hecate, who is a huge part of Mignola’s series, lets Stones and Cook push the dark elements, and use the animation style to emphasize contrasts and shadows. While vampires have become tired in recent years, their use here is dedicated to bringing out the bloody, frightening elements. The danger that Hellboy, Liz, and Abe face feels real, which doesn’t often happen with comic book adaptations.
Beyond the settled tone, though, Hellboy: Blood and Iron knows that no small part of its charm is the fun. While I don’t think the goofy one-liners are particularly worthwhile, I do enjoy when Cook and Stones recognize that—for all the terror—their characters are people experienced in these matters, and Hellboy’s nonchalance is the source of Hellboy‘s distinction from other horror stories. There’s also the interesting use of parallel stories, namely the B.P.R.D.’s investigation and soon-to-be-married Anna’s discovery of the dark undcurrent of her village. When you add in the reveal of Bruttenholm’s history with vampires, you see the extent to which the villains at hand affect the world and history around them, and thus the stakes increase enough to cover any narrative shortcomings.
Blood and Iron isn’t movie that will live forever in testament to the potential of animation, but it’s great fun as an extension of the Hellboy universe, and as its own story. I’m disappointed that there haven’t been more Hellboy Animated movies, because the creative minds behind these movies made huge leaps in confidence between Sword of Storms and its follow-up. With more opportunities, we might have gotten a great side-universe, but for now we will have to settle with the fun-if-flawed duo that reflect not only the multiplicity of Hellboy, but the pros and cons of mid-2000s stylistics.