I'll be honest, the first Hellboy film didn't do a huge amount for me. It didn't annoy me, but nor did it really stay with me. In fact I can remember very little about it, which speaks volumes. However first reviews of this were so positive (which isn't to say "glowing", but definitely good) that my interest was piqued for this.
In case the first one passed you by, Hellboy is a "demon" (not strictly accurate, but for the sake of argument...) - a bright red horned creature with a stone fist. Originally created/summoned for evil puposes but rescued by the good guys, he works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense investigating...weird stuff. The movie opens with a summary of how long ago man came to an agreement with other creatures to stay out of the forests, where they could live in peace. As we spread across the planet these creatures have been forced underground, and now one of them wants to take the world back.
The main level on which this movie delivers is visually - it's one of the best looking films I've ever seen. CGI has long been at the level where everything should look believable, so the sheer quality of effects isn't really a unique point. However, couple high-quality effects with a brilliantly creative mind, and the results can be impressive, both in terms of how things look, but perhaps more importantly the intricacy of them too. When we see the golden army on the move towards the end of the film, it would have been easy enough to create impressive-looking robots, but these have gears and cogs whirring within them, light seeping out from the cracks, and a palpable sense of menace.
That's not to do down the performances - Ron Perlman continues to brilliantly play the part he was born (or hewn) to portray, and the other characters all made more of an impression than I remember from the first film. There's also a new addition in the form of Seth MacFarlane voicing an ectoplasmic life form (basically a ghost in an old-style diving suit), who works well, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I found him funnier than he was sometimes meant to be.
I was trying to persuade a friend of mine to see this last night, with limited success. The trouble is that some people will be put off by the fantasy nature of it, which probably can't be helped. However, if you're a movie lover you should make the effort regardless - it's not perfect, but it's got more imagination behind it than the majority of movies you'll see this year.