After Iron Man and Hancock, you wouldn't think there's much left to say about superheroes who've neglected to go to finishing school. But now here's Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a sequel to 2004's Hellboy, and not only has writer-director Guillermo del Toro come up with something to say, he's said it in so extravagant a way that, if I were Batman, I'd consider holing up in the Batcave until this thing blows over. Hellboy was a pleasant surprise - junky in a good way, but also touching when the big lug was pining over the super-hot Liz. For the sequel, though, del Toro has pulled out all the stops.
The movie's still funny, Ron Perlman managing to give an Oscar-worthy performance underneath all that latex. And it's, if anything, more moving, all the supes wrestling with issues of what it means to be different. But it's the sheer scale of the thing that blows you away, the endless flow of imagination. Del Toro has done what so many comic-book-movie directors have tried and failed to do: He's achieved a state of mythic grandeur. And he's done it, in part, by keeping his feet on the ground. With his aw-crap demeanor, Hellboy's the Joe Six-pack of superheroes. He'd rather be drinking a beer or smoking a cigar, but duty calls.
This time it calls from deep underground, where an army of golden-hued robots is being awakened by a vengeful prince (Luke Goss, who looks like Edgar Winter doing a Marilyn Manson impersonation) whose father, the king, long ago struck a truce with humans. Once again, the cosmic mumbo-jumbo is the least interesting thing about Hellboy's quest to save the world. Suffice it to say that the forces of evil send a Boschian menagerie of creature-feature creatures Hellboy's way. Del Toro, who must have grown up watching monster movies at the local zoo, loves tentacles and mandibles, tusks and horns, snouts and tails.
One sequence, set in something called the Troll Market, makes the famous Star Wars cantina scene look like Tuesday night at the Elks Club. Some of the critters are familiar, in a Men in Black kind of way. Others seem sui generis, in a Pan's Labyrinth kind of way. As he did there, del Toro shows an amazing capacity to conjure up beasties that are able to crawl up under your skin and start laying eggs. My only reservation is that they succumb so easily to Hellboy's right hook and Dirty Harry six-shooter, even one that's as tall as the Empire State Building. If a gun can do the trick, do we really need Hellboy pulling the trigger?
No, but the guy sure knows how to deliver and receive a punch; he's like the Hulk on steroids. Unfortunately, Selma Blair's Liz still takes a back seat - heck, she may be all the way in the trunk - to her brawny boyfriend. And the scaly Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), though given more lines this time, seems more than ever like a guy in an amphibian suit. Then there's newcomer Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a whiff of ectoplasmic gas that inhabits a deep-sea diver's suit for reasons I never quite figured out. If this is starting to make Hellboy II seem like anything less than a complete mind-blower, not to mention a rollicking good time, then I better start over again.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Eastgate, Point, Star