Is the human race worth saving?
That's the unanswered question looming in the background of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Guillermo del Toro's sprawling, take-no-prisoners follow-up to his comparatively timid first stab at Mike Mignola's unconventional comic book superhero four years ago.
The red-skinned, cigar-chomping Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is still a demon fighting on the side of the angels, alongside pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), amphibious empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and their colleagues at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. But does an ungrateful, greedy world deserve their efforts? Given a choice between heroism and happiness, between saving the world and saving one's beloved, will self-interest always win out?
Amid a welter of eye-popping creature-feature smackdowns and stunning visions of grotesquerie, Hellboy II finds time to toy with questions like these. If Hellboy II is a Middle Movie, as it seems to be, answers may or may not be forthcoming in Hellboy III.
Ironically, it's Christmas Eve as Hellboy II opens in a prologue set in 1955, when Hellboy was but a little Hell-BOY (as opposed to the current fully-grown Hell-MAN) living with his adopted father Prof. Bruttenholm (John Hurt) at an army base. The season is a reminder that salvation has already come to mankind—though Hellboy, like many kids at Christmas, isn't thinking about the Savior, but about that other fellow who comes at that time of year. And when he asks Bruttenholm to tell him a story before bed, the professor cracks open a big old book and reads a mythic tale of primeval paradise lost—but it doesn't bear much resemblance to the early chapters of Genesis.
In the beginning, the tale goes, men, elves and ...