The world that Hellboy II: The Golden Army (hereafter Hellboy 2) presents is one that is filled with images of the fantastic, the bizarre, and the mysterious. In this world, it’s the humans that are the outsiders, while the trolls, demons, and even the Angel of Death collaborate deliver a tale that’s part parable, part adventure, and part love story.

Hellboy and Hellboy 2 joins the long line of great films that were inspired by comic books, and is one of the few comic books that I never read during my collecting days. Perhaps this is a good thing, as the film is uncluttered by previous expectations of certain villains and characterizations that must be met. In my mind, Guillermo Del Toro, who wrote and directed this film, is free to tell whatever kind of story he can imagine.

While it’s not the masterpiece of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2 is a deliberate fairy tale mixed in with a brilliant observation of the nature of man – as told though the eyes of monsters. No matter how strange the images on the image might be, the film is a probe of pinpoint accuracy of just what makes the hearts of men tick.

Ron Pearlman reprises the title role of this film which takes place well after the events of the first film. Aside from a simple narrative at the opening, there’s little need for background as the story is a self-contained work that masterfully fills the role of a second chapter, rather than a rehash of the first.

Gone are the shackles of the “human star” who was to provide a lens to the freaks. In Hellboy 2, it’s the freaks who tell the story. It’s their movie, their lives, and their world. Their hearts are real, as are their relationships. Here, the inebriated monsters sing “Can’t Smile Without You,” laying out just how insane love really is.

It’s the audience that reaps the benefits of Hellboy 2, one of the few truly great films of the 2008 summer season; firmly framed in a world that exists only in our dreams and fantasies.

Doug Jones’ reprisal of Abraham Sapien is part ballet, part psychic, and part fish. Jones provides the voice himself instead of being dubbed over by David Hyde-Pierce (who said he modeled his voice after that of Jones’ performance in the first film). Perhaps Jones has a taste for the bizarre, as he also hides under the latex in two other roles in the film, including one which hints at a strange destiny for Hellboy.

It’s Luke Goss and Anna Walton who together provide the threat of the film, as fraternal elf twins with an eternal link; with Nuada (Goss) hell-bent on wiping out humanity, and Nuala (Walton) must somehow stop her brother. The tool of Nuada’s plans is a mechanical army of massive golden soldiers who can only be controlled with a crown that must be assembled from three parts.

The story is simple enough, and Nuada’s motivation is solid, both of which provide a clean palette for the artistry that only Del Toro can provide. As such, Hellboy 2 is as much a literary success as it is a visual triumph. The visual effects are stunning (even if they are CGI), and the rest of the technical aspects of the film are equally superb.

If there’s really a world where trolls can fill a marketplace for fresh-chopped fish, Del Toro has clearly seen it. What’s more, he makes us want to visit; inviting us into a place as dangerous as it is whimsical, and unconventional as it is strikingly familiar.

Thanks to Hellboy 2, the summer of 2008 will serve a list of truly great films that is only getting longer. First it was Iron Man, then Wall-E, and now Hellboy 2 and The Dark Knight which is the best of all of them. After a year filled with duds (with but precious few gems), we’re fortunate to have a summer where the blockbusters are actually great.

The fitting tagline for Hellboy 2 is “Saving the world is a hell of a job.” It’s a hell of a movie, too.

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