If you wanted to get all philosophical about it, you could look at Hellboy II: The Golden Army as a piquant look at the human condition.
In the world inhabited by Hellboy and his droll and sardonic super-powered colleagues, human beings imagine that they're the ones who are running the show. But they really have no idea how to take care of themselves, they can't tell a friend from an enemy and they generally deserve condescension rather than respect.
But most of the audience for this surprisingly sprightly sequel won't be looking for such insights. They'll be looking for really cool action, flavorful visuals and a chance to revisit a curmudgeonly title character that they got to know through the comics and the highly praised first Hellboy movie.
Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), who also directed the original Hellboy, delivers all that, with a deft touch and just enough heart, humor and humanity, in the broad sense of the word.
Probably, few people who skipped the original Hellboy will turn out to see the sequel. But there's no reason to avoid it. Del Toro doles out just enough backstory that they'll know what's going on.
The story doesn't really matter much anyway. Essentially, there's an ancient race of humanoid beings led by a kindly king. His evil son decides to take over the world by unleashing a dormant army that lives beneath the earth. Hellboy — a demon who was adopted by humans as a child, and now lives a shadowy existence as a government operative — is called to the rescue. The gruff Hellboy is viewed with suspicion and even disdain by human society, but he's really a nice guy who loves kittens, cigars and classic TV.
The action is all pretty cool, but a lot of the fight scenes go on too long. The flash and bombast get a little tiresome.
Where the film really excels is in the relationship between Hellboy, his girlfriend, Liz, who can set herself on fire, and their friend Abe, a fishman who wears a breathing apparatus when he's on land. There's also plenty of really clever humor in the overstated action and the understated dialogue.
Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz) and Doug Jones (Abe) all deliver wry performances, and Jeffrey Tambor is delightfully feeble as the government guy who imagines that he's their boss. Special effects, costumes and makeup excel.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.