Ghosts, haunted houses, vampires, werewolves, witches, harpies, and a snake goddess. Is it any wonder why Hellboy stories are so much fun? Hellboy: Blood & Iron is the second animated Hellboy feature and it's a significant improvement over the first. There are two parallel stories in this film, the main storyline follows Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. investigating a haunted house and the second takes place in 1939 and is centered on a young Professor Bruttenholm as he hunts Erzsebet Ondrushko (Kath Soucie), a vicious vampire Countess who bathes in the blood of her victims in order to preserve her youth. The secondary plotline is told via flashback segments and these are presented in reverse order. This is actually quite effective in its use during the main storyline. As with the first film, the voice acting is fantastic, featuring nearly all the actors form the live action films, including John Hurt as professor Bruttenholm, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, and Peri Gilpin as Professor Kate Corrigan. The only exception is that Jim Cummings voices Tom Manning instead of Jeffrey Tambor from the films. Once again Ron Perlman brings the same charm he adds to Hellboy in every version he’s portrayed him. It’s quite difficult to imagine the character with a different voice and attitude.
Every aspect of this film is superior to Sword of Storms. The animation is smoother, the tone is much darker and more consistent, and the story is not only more intriguing, but better paced as well. There's a lot of action in the 75 minute run time, but it’s well distributed. After the opening action sequence, most of the screen time is dedicated to building up the mission and characters. Some of the best scenes are just with Hellboy and the other characters interacting and exploring the haunted house. A lot of time was spent in designing the mansion and it's clear in the backgrounds. There are marble statues and detailed paintings in nearly every room. By the end of the film, every inch of the mansion is explored from the upper levels to the caverns beneath it.
What works best in this film is the tone and story. The story is much more centered on the characters, the relationship between Hellboy and Professor Bruttenholm in particular. There are also some seeds planted for a much bigger storyline concerning who Hellboy is as well as that right hand of his, as evidenced during a flashback and Hellboy’s encounter with the Goddess Hecate. The tone this time around is much darker and it's reflected in the animation. The setting is often dark and filled with shadows. There's a particularly good scene in which Hellboy battles a werewolf in a room in which the only light source is from the fireplace, making the entire action scene red. It's also refreshing to see just how serious the story takes itself, even with characters making wise-cracks about certain situations. This is what makes the characters really likable and the story maintain its drama. Even though the characters are aware of the absurdity of their situations, there's no mistake that they're dangerous, and most of the humor is very carefully placed so that darker scenes are allowed to be as dark as they need to be. This story is so steeped in mythology and folklore that it clearly emits its inspiration from the comics by Mike Mignola.
There are a few slight issues, such as some very minor animation inconsistencies (specifically Hellboy’s disappearing and reappearing injuries towards the end). This is also a film only for those familiar with Hellboy as a character. Little time is spent on his origin, though it's referenced, and nothing is said about how the other characters came to be. If you’ve seen the live action films or read the comics, this is no problem, but if you are new to the character than it's very possible to feel a little lost. Aside from a few minor complaints, Hellboy: Blood & Iron is a terrific animated film that's as good as the live action counterparts. It's not to be missed for fans of the series.