Directing a sequel to a modestly successful comic-book adaptation might seem like a perverse choice to follow up an Oscar-winning international triumph like Pan's Labyrinth. But for Guillermo del Toro, directing the Hellboy movies is the opposite of slumming: His affection for the comic's motley gang of misfits is palpable in every scene. Del Toro makes movies fanboys love in part because he's such a fanboy himself. With Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro proves his geek credentials once again by collaborating with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola on the story, hiring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane to voice a fantastical creature that looks like Robby The Robot's off-brand cousin and talks like Colonel Klink, and including a conspicuous homage to John Landis.
Ron Perlman returns as the film's loveable title character, a demon gone good who's tough on the outside but tender underneath, with a soft spot for kittens, candy, and babies. With his formidable physique, cigars, giant guns, and winning way with a one-liner, he's part McBain-style action-hero parody, part Frankenstein-like outcast. Hellboy is the key ass-kicking component of a secret government paranormal squad that includes fiery girlfriend Selma Blair, a bright, cerebral chap (Doug Jones) who bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Creature From The Black Lagoon, the aforementioned MacFarlane-voiced German monstrosity, and hapless human sidekick Jeffrey Tambor. They're like the Ghostbusters if the Ghostbusters were phantasms and beasties themselves. In his latest adventure, Hellboy and the gang take on an otherworldly prince out to take over the world with the eponymous golden army.
Hellboy 2 breezes along on the strength of Perlman's brawling charisma, a likeable tone, and a deft combination of goofball humor, pathos, and big action setpieces. It reaches sublime heights in three virtuoso sequences: a hilariously boozy Barry Manilow sing-along between the lovesick Perlman and Jones, a lyrical sequence where a giant tree monster becomes a leafy green paradise, and an eye-popping trip to a troll bazaar that recalls the canteen sequence in Star Wars and highlights the film's phenomenal, extensive creature design. Hellboy II can't help but feel slight following Pan's Labyrinth, but that's part of its charm. Think of it as a pleasant diversion for del Toro and his fans before the epic task of mounting The Hobbit for producer (and fellow geek-god) Peter Jackson.