HOLLYWOOD — Words don’t really do justice in attempting to describe the wondrous array of misfits and monsters Guillermo del Toro has concocted in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” Truly, his is a world you have to experience for yourself to appreciate it fully — if you dare, that is.
In following up the original “Hellboy” from 2004 and his Academy Award-winning 2006 masterpiece, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the director has outdone himself in both absurd humor and wild imagination. At times, there’s almost too much to take in all at once — everything from hulking trolls with thick tusks to tiny tooth fairies that look delicate but actually delight in feasting on human bones.
The visuals are the star, of course. But the sequel, which del Toro scripted from a story he co-wrote with “Hellboy” comic book creator Mike Mignola, wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without Ron Perlman returning as its wisecracking, beer-guzzling, kitten-nuzzling hero.
Not only does Perlman completely get del Toro’s twisted sense of humor, he thrives on it. As the film’s title character — who grows from boy-devil to man-devil to reluctant, noir-style crime fighter — Perlman shows not just perfect comic timing but also an irresistible ability to laugh at himself.
This time, Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense must stop the power-hungry Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) from awakening a dormant army of indestructible golden soldiers. Seems all the underground creatures and the humans forged a pact long ago to keep the peace, and keep the Golden Army from causing any more death and destruction between the two races. Nuada has grown tired of that and takes action — even though his twin sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), has begged him to back down. (The two share a psychic bond, as so many twins do; they also share the golden tresses and alabaster skin of the 1990s hair-band duo Nelson.)
For Hellboy, though, the potential obliteration of all humankind is just one more hassle with which to deal. He’d rather hang out and enjoy his cigars. Having said that, he’s not exactly a shy individual, and revels in the attention his misadventures draw from the ravenous New York tabloids. (Or as his sophisticated colleague Abe Sapien puts it, “God, I hate YouTube.”)
Doug Jones returns as Abe, the turquoise-tinted fish-man with keen intuition and a taste for Vivaldi; he’s also the beneficiary of some the script’s best lines. The sinewy, shape-shifting actor, who appeared so memorably as the title character in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” also shows up later in far darker form as the spectacular Angel of Death.
Jeffrey Tambor again plays the jittery bureaucrat who runs the operation — a rare, quasi-villainous role for the comedian. And, of course, Selma Blair is back as Liz, Hellboy’s (literally) fiery girlfriend. She’s all business when it comes to fighting bad guys, and Blair is appropriately exasperated by our anti-hero’s brutish ways. But she also brings out the sensitive side in the man she affectionately calls Red.
The on-again, off-again battle between Hellboy and Nuada drags on a bit, causing the pacing to sag. Maybe that’s an inevitable consequence of coming on so strong off the top. But by about the two-thirds mark, “Hellboy II” runs out of steam, just as the motley crew of do-gooders makes its way to Ireland, of all places, where the Golden Army is being stored.
Their journey does provoke a clever “Wizard of Oz” reference, though. But the best pop-culture moment of all comes courtesy of Barry Manilow, because in del Toro’s beautifully bizarro universe, where creatures come in all shapes and sizes, there’s even a place for 1970s schmaltz.
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language. Running time: 110 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.