It is a truth undeniable that Hellboy II: The Golden Army does not enjoy a particularly robust and tight story; it might not be that much of a mistake, in fact, to claim that its story is a confusing mess. If that's the sort of thing that's going to bother you no matter what, then I respect your position, and I'll do nothing to convince you that you should like the film anyway. Never let anyone tell you that your opinion is wrong.

For everyone else, all I have to say is that the story, be it good or bad, is entirely immaterial. You'd never go to a vegan restaurant and complain that you can't get a really good cheeseburger there. That is, the story in Hellboy II is neither better nor worse than it needs to be; I have virtually no doubt that Guillermo del Toro directed exactly the film he set out to direct, in which the plot is at very best nothing more than a pretext for the actual meat of the work: an essentially unending parade of some of the most visionary images ever to grace a fantasy movie.

Del Toro has always been an imaginative visual artist rather than a particularly apt storyteller, anyway, and as his budgets have increased, his imagination has tended to manifest itself in the creation of utterly marvelous creatures. There's a whole lot to love about Pan's Labyrinth, but I'd be willing to bet no small amount of money that if I asked you to name the very first memory of that film that pops into your head, it would be one of the two monsters performed by Doug Jones, the director's go-to boy for elaborate suits: the Faun or the Pale Man. Admittedly, there's nothing in Hellboy II that can compete head-to-head with either of those instantly-iconic creations, but what the film may lack in such specific quality, it more than compensates for in sheer quantity: the number of individual creatures present in the film, all throughout its two-hour running time, can scarce be counted. By and large, the very best of these have already been seen in the film's trailers - notably the Angel of Death, a beast with a plate over its face and giant wings with slimy eyes peering out along the edges (and played, expectedly, by Jones) - but there is seeing a wonderful image for two seconds in a short little ad clip, and then there is basking in that image for minutes at a time.

Following the 2004 cult hit Hellboy, the new film - written by the director, who co-conceived the scenario with the comic book character's inventor, Mike Mignola - is pretty much just more of the same: Hellboy (Ron Perlman), the son of Lucifer accidentally ripped out of Hell in his youth, is a field agent for the super-secret Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. An ancient plot threatens to erupt in the modern world, and Hellboy must stop it, along with his fellow freaks Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Jones again, reprising his role from the first film, but providing the voice this time, after David Hyde Pierce bowed out, believing that he deserved no credit for Jones's artistry). The particular threat this time involves a centuries-old elven kingdom, whose corrupt Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) wishes to destroy the human race using the long-lost Golden Army, unstoppable war machines controlled by the elves' ruler. To go any further would be to start revealing the strain involved, and I don't want to do that.

Because the point, again, is that the invention of an otherworld of mythological beings gives del Toro the perfect excuse to dream up seemingly dozens of highly-detailed monsters and beings, and to create beautifully arcane sets for those beings to walk around on. Except for the show-stopping Forest God that appears a little bit past the midway point, and a few other flying or giant beasties, most of these creatures are achieved through practical effects, with only the occasional CGI smoothing out of some of the seams. Much like it was with the Faun, it's all but impossible to believe that these things actually exist in the physical world (and indeed, watching the film, I thought that a lot of things simply must be CG effects that turned out not to be). I'm sorry, I don't mean to keep harping on this. But come on:

Tell me that isn't gorgeousness and gorgeousity made synthetic flesh. Gorgeousness aided, in no small part, by the ever-wonderful Guillermo Navarro.

The other point, much as it was in the first film, is that we get to enjoy Ron Perlman returning to what is almost certainly the best role of his career; with all the snarky banter that implies. The dialogue isn't as smart as it was in the last film, to be sure (weighed down by an awkward subplot involving the domestic tensions between Hellboy and Liz), but it's still pretty zippy, and the actor's clear delight with the character means that even the most "written" lines are performed with a liveliness that eludes so many quip-a-minute action heroes, be they comic-book derived or not. Hellboy II is a silly film, with a silly protagonist; but its silliness is both earned and successful. 'tis good for a summer movie to be fun, something that eludes most of them; broad mindlessness is far more typical. Well, Hellboy II is quite a lot of fun, and exorbitantly fantastic to look at, and with that in hand, I do think that minor things like narrative clarity and development can just go fuck themselves.