The world of film has long been subject to finding popular trends, hopping on them and running them into the ground. The latest hot ticket in Hollywood is the comic book movie: they have a built-in audience, and you're almost guaranteed to make money on the first movie. With the only roadblock in the way of sequels being escalating production costs, it only makes sense that some less-popular comic book adaptations receive lower-cost animated sequels.
Hellboy: Sword of Storms is a sequel to 2004's Hellboy, which introduced filmgoers to Mike Mignola's title character (voiced by Ron Perlman) fighting supernatural threats alongside pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and fish man Abe Sapien (Tony Jones). In this installment, the heroic trio faces off against forces of Japanese mythology after they're unwittingly unleashed by a folklore professor.
For fans of the original film, the jump to the animated version is easy to make. The animation is vivid, alternating between inky dark lairs and gorgeous painted landscapes throughout the duration. The times when the animation goes shoddy is, ironically enough, when they try to do too much. At times, the animation team attempts to blend computer animation into the mix, detracting from the overall aesthetic. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.
The story itself suffers from assuming every viewer has complete recollection of a three-year-old film. Aside from a short bumper at the beginning, nothing is ever mentioned regarding the background of the characters or the events of the first. As a result, the portions involving Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien seem unimportant. If anything they did was noteworthy, including a horribly under-developed romantic tension and a seemingly unending battle with a sea monster, why weren't we told who they are in the first place?
Regardless, the portions involving Hellboy navigating a beautiful, creepy Japanese dreamscape are excellent. The fight scenes aloneÂ--pitting Hellboy against severed heads, a giant spider, zombies, a giant troll and a pair of elemental demons--are worth sitting through the rest of the film. It's a shame that these scenes were used in an animated project, as they would've been even better in a live-action version. Despite some flaws, Sword of Storms is an energetic instalment in the Hellboy saga. Hopefully the upcoming live action sequel, due out in 2008 and featuring the involvement of almost everyone involved in the original and Sword of Storms, will learn from these mistakes.