Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Granted, Guillermo del Toro's sequel to his 2004 Hellboy is not a work of art like his Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth. But his latest spin on Mike Mignola's vividly drawn Dark Horse comic series sure is a surprise package of fun, fright and untamed imagination. If you're looking for a creature feature, you've found nirvana. Things that go squish in the night? Del Toro's got a million of them, and I mean that literally. There's a scene at the Troll Market that almost equals the cantina scene in Star Wars, the first one when George Lucas still knew how to do it. "I'm not a baby, I'm a tumor," sasses something being coddled in a mother's arms. Yowsa! Then there's the cigar-chomping, crimefighting superfreak Hellboy himself, played again by Ron Perlman with face red, fist massive and horns that just can't stay filed down. Red, that's what his pals call him, still fights against demon spawn for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. And he's taken the next step in his relationship to the pyrokinetic Liz (an incendiary Selma Blair), who is infanticipating. Also back and most welcome is Abe Sapien, a walking, talking fish, played with the grace of a courtier by Doug Jones. When Abe and Red do a drunken duet to Barry Manilow's sappy "Can't Smile Without You," the result is funny and oddly touching. The movie could have used more of those human moments. But there are dragons to slay, not to mention Prince Nuada (Luke Goss, the coolest of villains) out to bring a golden army of robots back to life to destroy the world or some such nonsense. Hellboy II grows repetitive but never boring. You can't go wrong in the company of visionary like Del Toro, who is scheduled to direct The Hobbit, a prequel to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bring it on.