Monday, July 14, 2008


The latest opportunity to take a nightmarishly comical joy ride inside the mind of visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is one fantastic voyage.

Big Red is back, and I’m not talking soda pop. Hellboy, of course, is the graphic-novel character sprung from the febrile brain of creator/co-scripter Mike Mignola. Hellboy was summoned from the pit by Nazis during World War II, but adopted by a human professor. The creature has crimson skin, diabolical horns it has sanded down to the nubs and “it” likes candy and TV.

Nowadays, Hellboy (a perfectly cast Ron Perlman) lives in Trenton, N.J., at the Bureau for Paranormal Defense and Research, where the humans are likely strugglng with something resembling Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, while Vivaldi-buff Hellboy chugs Tecates, smokes cigars, and he and firestarter girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) work out their issues. If Raymond Chandler’s wisecracking, pulp noir knight-in-shining-armor Philip Marlowe had sprung from the depths of hell, he would be our Boy.

Meanwhile, the elvish, Elric-like swordsman Prince Nuada (Englishman Luke Goss) seeks revenge against perceived human oppressors by resurrecting the mechanical and indestrucible Golden Army to wipe his enemies off the face of the Earth.

Also back for this installment are a briefly seen Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm (John Hurt), as well as Hellboy’s psychic, amphibious buddy-cohort Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and comically slowburning Bureau chief Manning (Jeffrey Tambor).

The Bureau team boasts a new member this time, the faceless, delightfully smoky (I mean that literally), diving-suit-equipped dark arts master Johan Krauss (voice of Seth MacFarlane).

Working again with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (“Cronos,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”), del Toro takes viewers on a magical mystery tour of another clockwork-crazy wonderland inhabited by hungry “tooth fairies,” creatures nicknamed Cathedral Head and Fragglewump (both Brian Steele) and an Angel of Death (Jones, again) with several pair of eyes on its massive, dark wings.

One sequence might be described as “The Magic Beanstalk That Attacked the Brooklyn Bridge.” Death transforms that marauding “elemental” into a garden. Another highlight is a troll market beneath the aforementioned bridge, where you will hear the unforgettable line, “I’m not a baby, I’m a tumor.”

On a less gruesome note, hopelessly smitten Abe and Hellboy sing a duet of “Can’t Smile Without You.” On the whole, this new “Hellboy” is a fractured fairy tale about fatherhood.

Like such genre staples as “Harry Potter ,” “The X-Files” and “Men in Black” “Hellboy” is set in a universe in which humans coexist with monsters, demons, pixies, goblins, mummies, ogres, trolls and elves, although most humans are unaware of the constant, world-threatening struggles between them.

That “world” is also, of course, the human mind itself, and del Toro’s is teeming with wonders.

(“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” contains off-color language, comic book-type violence and some gruesome imagery.)