The wildly inventive talent of Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro is in evidence in every frame of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, the second installment of his big-budget franchise based on the comic books by Mike Mignola. No, Hellboy isn't a bittersweet fable like Pan's Labyrinth or a supremely creepy coming-of-age tale like The Devil's Backbone, but even with all its romping, stomping action-adventure (and there's plenty of that), there's a peculiarity to Hellboy that blurs the line between del Toro's Hollywood blockbusters (Blade 2, Mimic) and his less conventional Spanish-language films.
As we've come to expect from del Toro and his frequent collaborator Doug Jones, the creature design here is spectacular -- ravenous tooth fairies, an Angel of Death that is clearly inspired by Pan's Pale Man, and an entire "troll market" of weirdos make for a deliciously bizarre menagerie. And of course, there's the infernal hero himself, played with relish by Ron Perlman, a burly red demon with a gigantic fist, a prehensile tail, sawn-off horns, and a mysterious destiny.
His entourage, including Selma Blair as flammable Liz and Doug Jones as the water-bound Abe Sapien, are no less strange, and del Toro's sympathy for his freakish heroes gives the film much of its emotional weight. As usual, he's on the side of the monsters, and between show-stopping smash-'em-ups that come with a satisfying dose of ambiguity, these guys, part of a government team led by Jeffrey Tambor, engage each other and the audience with more than the usual throw-away lines.
For once, the "character moments" don't just feel tacked on but essential to the story (which I'll let you discover on your own.) Action, humor, and ancient prophecies underscored with swelling Danny Elfman cues are nicely balanced, and I left the theater altogether pleased. After The Golden Army, I'm almost as excited for the next Hellboy film as I am for del Toro's The Hobbit. *** [posted by Jürgen]