So here’s the deal. For eons, a truce has existed between mankind and a subterranean race of fantastical creatures, many of whom have eyeballs in inappropriate places. On behalf of the latter group, one ambitious, ruthless, sword-slinging and rather alarmingly pale prince (Luke Goss) has had enough. Way he figures it, humans have squandered and contaminated the world—“parking lots, shopping malls!” he cries—and the time has come to depose them.
On behalf of the former group, although poignantly apart from it as well, is Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a rough-and-ready demon conjured years ago by occultist Nazis and adopted by Americans, who these days works topside undercover for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD).
Sympathy for a devil: Ron Perlman returns as the demon with a heart of gold and guns of steel in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
Now, if you’re becoming impatient because you already knew all this, because you’re quite intimately familiar with Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics and writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s initial film adaptation of four years ago, don’t even bother reading any further. In fact, don’t even see the new movie. Instead, go out and get some exercise, will you? Some fresh air, maybe?
O.K., then. Hellboy’s BPRD allies include a few other appealing freaks. There’s his psychic, sensitive, piscine friend Abe, gamely played by regular Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones; his new boss, a campy German efficiency expert called Johann who happens not to have a body and sounds like the talking fish in “American Dad” because he’s voiced by that show’s creator, Seth MacFarlane; and his literal old flame Liz, a pyrokinetic (played by Selma Blair, who is, sure enough, combustibly hot, and whose otherwise narrow range at last seems richly nuanced within the context of colorfully rubberized comic book characters). Together they accomplish many feats of bravery and heroic strangeness.
But can they save the world? The prince’s plan is to rouse and lead a dormant army of roughly 500 indestructible mechanical soldiers. (Out of respect for Del Toro’s aversion to banality, and his gear fetish, it doesn’t seem quite right to call them simply “robots.”) The awakening of the so-called Golden Army is the last thing Hellboy and Co. can let happen. But of course, with the movie’s subtitle being The Golden Army, you can guess what happens.
It’s no spoiler to say they have the situation under control. Or Del Toro does, anyway. His plan all along must have been to keep his movie elaborately weird, almost inscrutably dark and generally too busy to fully explain itself. Sometimes it seems off-puttingly self-enchanted; other times it allows for choice snippets of surprising dialogue, like—O.K., maybe this is a small spoiler—“I’m not a baby, I’m a tumor.” That zinger pops out in a place known as the “troll market,” which is about what you’d get if the inhabitants of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop came to life on their own, went to the cantina from Star Wars, got hammered there and became very rowdy.
Del Toro’s most distinctive gift may be his way of eliciting unexpected sympathy for even the most horrific beasts—be they insectoid flesh-eating faeries or enormous, city block-wrecking plant monsters or what have you. Who knew delighting in the grotesque could make comic book-based movies so fun to be with? What’s that? You knew? Hey, weren’t you supposed to go outside?