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Hellboy II a beautiful-but-scary film

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You know what's weird? Teeth. They're just little bones that liveoutside your skin.

It's also weird that nobody was all that jazzed about Hellboy,yet everyone I knew was fired up about Hellboy II: The GoldenArmy. This probably has something to do with writer/directorGuillermo del Toro's universally beloved Pan's Labyrinth, but Ithink it has much more to do with the use of Rammstein songs in allthose movie trailers.

Rammstein's potential energy is so strong that if we could find a wayto grind them up and pump them into our gas tanks, oil wouldn't beuseful for anything more than dumping on the road to spin out the copcars trying to chase us down for murdering Rammstein. I know this isonly a pipe dream--in reality, Rammstein is invulnerable, and even ifthey weren't, they could hear our thoughts and strike us down with onecrisp German curse before we got near them--but apparently Rammsteinanswers prayers, too, because Hellboy II is just about as greatas everyone seems to have hoped.

Long ago, mankind declared war on the elves, goblins, trolls, andfantastical beings who shared our world. On the verge of defeat, themythical peoples built the Golden Army, an invincible mechanicallegion they used to force a truce which has lasted to the present day.

Now, elvish prince Luke Goss seeks to break that truce. His unsubtleeffort to obtain the crown that commands the Golden Army sets RonPerlman (as Hellboy) and the rest of the paranormal crew on his tail.

Because if Goss gets that crown--and the only thing stopping him ishis sister who fled with the final piece--the jig is up for mankind.Perlman and Selma Blair's romantic problems aren't going to mean muchwhen we're all living under the boots of thousands of unstoppablemechanical men.

The really impressive thing about Hellboy II is it not onlyimproves on what the original did well--strong action, inventivecreature design, an offbeat sense of humor--but it opens up both theinner world of its characters and the outer world of the fantasticalternate universe they inhabit.

The difficulty in establishing the ground rules of an alternateuniverse may explain why superhero sequels are often better than thefirst entry. (And if that rule holds true for The Dark Knight,look here next week for where to make donations to my ecstasy-inducedfuneral.) Hellboy II feels like more than a franchisestretching its wings, though. Instead, its careering humor, clockworkpacing, and perverse exploration of love feels like the work of anartist at the top of his game.

An artist who really, really loves monsters. Listening to del Toro'svoice on his commentaries is a hypnotizing pleasure, but I'm not sureI'd want to spend any time inside the man's head.

Judging by the otherworldly, beautiful-but-scary designs of thecreatures facing off against Perlman's team, del Toro's nightmaresmust make yours and mine look like a chaste kiss on the cheek. On theplus side, when you can channel that into scenes where a big burlydevil shoots the goo out of a glowing moss-monster the size of a watertower, I think the nightmares are worth it.

When that sheer imagination takes the movie to the brink of whimsicaloverload, all is forgiven the next time the game cast dives into ahilarious session of bonding and/or fighting. It's a rare gift when adirector can entertain you on this many levels. That just makes it allthe crazier we've had so many great comic book movies in the last fewyears. Even amongst its most laudable peers, Hellboy II standsout as a witty, exciting trip you couldn't have imagined before seeingit on the theater screen.

Grade: A-

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