Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Superman is gone.

Prince Nuada: [to Hellboy] That's your weapon of choice?
Hellboy: [flexing his stone hand] Five fingered Mary!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a helluva hoot, a complement to and departure from the spate of superhero films this summer such as Iron Man, Hancock, Incredible Hulk, and Indiana Jones. The complementing part is obvious: super powers, super problems, super egos, super genre revisioning. The departure is the entrance into the parodic genre stage, where satire dominates.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman's voice) and his rag-tag comrades from the special Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense include the fiery Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and the delicate Aquaman (Abe Sapien). They must quell a rebellion by a mythical world of creatures that have held back by treaty from fighting humans until the re-emergence of their bellicose Prince Nuada (Luke Goss). Ironic it is that the hellspawn Red has been rejected by both worlds.

The laughs are constant, as the opening dialogue here indicates, and usually from Perlman's Hellboy, such as when he calls his new boss, Germanic Johann Krauss (John Alexander and James Dodd), who is a protoplasmic bureaucrat with a window-like pate, a "glasshole," and then moves on to smoke his Cuban cigar. The days of upright, uptight Superman are gone.

What remains is a combination of Will Smith's hung-over, bad-boy Hancock and Robert Downey's self-indulgent but emerging community-mindedness. Both of these traits are superimposed with an incessant wisecracking that endears Red to the audience and encourages it to forget perfection and enjoy the child-like fun of breaking the rules and poking fun at authority.

Allusions to many sci-fi and fantasy classics abound, most assuredly the market scenes from Star Wars are easily recognized and the ravenous tooth-faerie like creatures could be straight from Lord of the Rings. Drunken Red and Abe singing along to sappy Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" is a classic moment of pop-cult satire.

Blazing Saddles defined this parodic stage of the genre cycle, using the Western's many clich?s and poking fun at its conventions (the flatulent campfire is most notable). Director Guillermo del Toro takes his own classic Pan's Labyrinth, mixes it with Mike Mignola's comic book Hellboy, and does it all better. It's a helluva show.