The same super-heated visual imagination that made Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006) such a darkly thrilling delight is very much in evidence in his sequel to HELLBOY (2004). It's a shame that it's at the service of such a blandly conventional story.
Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a cigar-chomping demon with an ossified red right hand like a piledriver, entered our world in 1944, courtesy of a Nazi experiment in mucking around with interdimensional barriers. Raised by British occultist Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) to use his supernatural powers for good, not evil, Hellboy works for the highly classified Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, protecting regular folks from the likes of, well… him. Or pallid Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) of the Old Ones, who looks like one of J.R.R. Tolkien's flaxen-haired elves crossed with Marilyn Manson. Nuada has spent centuries perfecting his swordsmanship and seething about the truce his father struck with the human race, giving us the world above and confining ghosties, ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties to the world below. Nuada intends to raise the Golden Army – unstoppable automata controlled by a mystical crown – and take back the light for the powers of darkness. But first he has to reassemble the three parts of the crown, one of which is being protected by his twin sister, Nuala (Anna Walton), who's as pure of heart as Nuada is wicked. It's up to Hellboy and his cohorts – vaporous Johann Krauss (Jason Alexander and James Dodd, voiced by Seth MacFarlane), fire-starter Liz (Selma Blair) and aqua-man Abe Sapien (del Toro regular Doug Jones) – to stop him, a task complicated by their complicated entanglements: Liz and Hellboy are havin relationship problems and she's secretly pregnant to boot, while Abe has fallen in love with Nuala.
Wrathful twin vs. gentle twin, good vs. evil, light vs. dark – call it archetypal or call it clichéd, but its reductively familiar stuff. But, oh, the visions that emerge from del Toro's fan-boy fever dreams – a talking tumor, a beast with a retractable mace for an arm (and a face straight out of 1970's cult-favorite EQUINOX), an elegant death angel, a giant stone statue that opens into an underground city, a swarm OF "tooth fairies" who eat through flesh and bone like avenging locusts, a troll market beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, a primordial plant elemental that could be the love-child of H.P. Lovecraft and Mother Nature in an especially stormy mood, the golden army that could have sprouted from metal dragons' teeth… the wonders are, if not endless, then abundant. And in a movie landscape where "effects" too often supersedes "special," wonders are worth savoring. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh