Of all the adventure fantasies that have bombarded the summer movie scene, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is the most accomplished.
No surprise here, for this second installment based on the comic book series is the brainchild of the brilliant, unorthodox Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who gave us “Pan’s Labyrinth,” one of the best films of 2007.
Not everything splashed into our laps is satisfying or coherent, and before it ends, it wears out its welcome. But compared with other fantasies, “Hellboy II” is a fresh, invigorating cyclone of energy. Unlike the plethora of clones flying our way, this one dares to sport intelligence.
With red skin and devilish horns, Ron Perlman plays the title character with mischievous delight. Chomping down on a cigar, he’s a smartass hero living with other government-confiscated characters supervised by the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. His pals include Liz, a literal tyro of flaming femininity played by Selma Blair, and a skeletal, clairvoyant fishman named Abe Sapien, portrayed by Doug Jones.
The mutants spring into action when the Demon Prince (Luke Gloss) arises to wreak havoc on the world. Under his dominion are a gorilla-like monster and a band of “tooth fairies” whose incisors can chew into stomachs with all the efficiency of a supersonic drill. Mindful of PG-13 constraints, del Toro leaves the hideous results to our imaginations.
’Hellboy II: The Golden Army’
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Guillermo del Toro
STARRING Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Luke Gloss, Doug Jones, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor and John Hurt
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
In a prologue featuring a young Hellboy and his adopted father-figure (John Hurt), we imbibe the critical back story of the prince’s father, King Balor, and the mechanical army of killers locked in a chamber of woeful perdition. If the prince can get hold of a missing piece, all hell will break loose. In the meantime, Abe falls for the prince’s twin sister, knowing that she will die if the prince meets his demise. What a dilemma. What a scourge of temptation.
The future of the human race is at stake, and here del Toro asks us to ponder an interesting idea. If we consider how badly we have used our potential, are we worth saving? Who are we to talk of demonic creatures when more than once our fragile race has done the work of the devil?
Meanwhile, in a vortex of incidental delights, Hellboy and his pals visit a lair under the Brooklyn bridge, the residence of mutants.
Along with the prince and his killer fairies, we meet a menagerie of trolls. It’s an ingenious scenario, every bit as enjoyable as the bar scene in the 1977 “Star Wars.”
While I am at it, let me add that even with its flaws, “Hellboy II” is a more delectable treat than those featuring the tired creations of George Lucas, who still seems to have a difficult time escaping the confines of adolescence.
The action winds down in Scotland, where Hellboy and company have their showdown with the Prince, but not before our hero and Abe get drunk, drowning their woes in a vocal rendition of Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You.”
It is the picture’s most memorable scene in a movie that is ambitious and blessed with a playful intelligence.