The second of two animated features co-directed by Darkwing Duck creator Tad Stones, "Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron" is a very fun and light adventure featuring everyone's favorite cigar-chomping, trench-coat wearing blue-collar demon-turned-good-guy. Produced by character creator Mike Mignola and "Hellboy" film director Guillermo del Toro, "Blood & Iron" is very much in every way a marked improvement over the previous animated effort, "Sword of Storms." With a more solid foundation for the story, the inclusion of new characters that compliment the returning leads, and a slower and more deliberate pacing, here we are given a glimpse of what could have been, should the "Hellboy Animated" series have been given a chance to continue on after these initial two installments.As part of a publicity stunt, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense sends Hellboy (voice of Ron Perlman), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Professor Broom (John Hurt) to perform a ghost-hunt in a massive mansion recently purchased by an eccentric millionaire who hopes to turn it into a hotel resort. However, things take a shocking turn for the worse when it appears the alleged haunting is indeed very real, and may be tied to a disturbing and dark chapter of Professor Broom's own past. And so, Hellboy and the others will need to fight demonic spirits, evil harpies and vampiric forces to save the day and right what once went wrong so many years ago.Part of what makes this particular feature work so well its the keen use of atmosphere and some really sharp storytelling. The dark, brooding and very Gothic visuals help lend an old-fashioned eerie feeling to the piece that's just creepy enough to make it effective but not so scary as to frighten older children. It gave me fond memories of growing up watching old, cheesy William Castle and Vincent Price horror flicks with my mom. It's very much fun first and frightening second, and the beautifully dreary and inky artwork helps set just the right mood. The writing is a far more developed and methodical as well this time around. Stones and co-writers Mignola and Kevin Hopps craft a very intriguing tale that cleverly utilizes a non-linear structure, with two separate story lines in past and present that feed off of one- another and help develop the over-arcing plot.The performances as always are a phenomena and Perlman continues to define the role of the big, red goof. I also really appreciated the inclusion of John Hurt this time around, after having been absent in the previous film. He adds a great sense of class and taste to the film, and his familiar voice as Broom- a role he played flawlessly in the feature length films, was invaluable to the experience. Supporting roles by the likes of Peri Gilpin and Rob Paulson also add a nice bit of scope to the cast. I especially enjoyed Paulson's role as Sydney Leach, the new junior agent sent along for the ride. I get the feeling he may have been a last-minute replacement for the character Russell Thorn, a similar character initially seen in "Sword of Storms." But he fares much better here than Thorn did in his film... he's a bit more grounded and played far less broadly, which I thought was a big benefit to the somewhat more serious tone of this entry.The film isn't without flaw, however. The biggest issues I had were the disjointed nature of the first act and some really bad corner- cutting later on in the film that was obviously the result of limited time and resources. The first ten or fifteen minutes, while admittedly a lot of fun to watch, don't quite feel as refined as the remainder of the film. In particular a sloppy opening "adventure" that feels beyond tacked- on and even a bit condescending in terms of pandering. Do we really need to manufacture excuses to have Hellboy say "crap" a dozen times in less than five minutes? It's also clear that the animation team had to do some sequences on the fly, especially during the climax, so be prepared for a few sloppy effects and even seeing lots of double and triple uses of the same character designs and elements. Not enough to ruin any particular scene, but just noticeable enough to become somewhat grating.Still, the better use of plotting, structure and pacing in comparison to the first animated adventure, in addition to the wonderful design work and vocal performances are able to distract from these minor issues and help craft and engaging and very fun little film. It may not quite measure up to the high standard set by the two live-action films, but as its own beast, "Blood & Iron" is more than serviceable and is a great way to get your "Hellboy" fix as the prospect of a third theatrical release seems less and less likely over time. It's a great deal of fun, and considering that you can pick up a double- pack of the two animated flicks on Blu-Ray for about $5, it's a worthy investment. It'll make for a very thrilling and sometimes spooky evening with your family!I give "Hellboy Animated: Blood & Iron" a very good 8 out of 10.
... View More