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Pretty Monsters, Super Creeps 

"Hellboy II" lives in the imagination of its famed director.ÿ

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"Hellboy II" lives in the imagination of its famed director.

If superhero-to-movie ratio is a factor, note that "Hellboy II: The Golden Army?VbCrLf provides four for the price of admission, along with an entire hidden world of strange monsters, all dazzlingly realized by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth?VbCrLf). Though previews may make it seem like just another summertime sequel for the kids, the movie stands apart because of del Toro's unique vision, so immersed in his singular imagination you can almost overlook the often baffling story that goes with it.

In this episode, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his gang -- including fiery girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and a fish man named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) -- are still living at a top-secret headquarters run by the government, which employs them to investigate and take down paranormal beings. Some of the best early moments highlight their daily routine as they squabble over the big questions concerning their work while scientists and handlers deal with the details -- like wrestling a giant tentacled beast into the restraints on an examination room table.

The plot hinges on one seemingly typical investigation concerning activity at a nearby auction house, where an elf prince (Luke Goss) and his rhinoceros-sized valet recently stole an ancient artifact. The prince has decided to wage a new war against man for violating an ancient treaty. Trying to stop him, Hellboy and his crew visit various fantastical locations and talk to a variety of crazy-looking demons, bringing director del Toro's well-documented obsession with monsters to the fore. The movie offers a menagerie of trolls, fairies, wizened kings and underground lairs, every creature seeming unique yet rooted to the world, as if it were carved from some ancient tradition.

Yet every new character, though more fantastical than the one before it, takes you further from figuring out why you should be interested in Hellboy. The character is known for his lackadaisical attitude -- constantly guzzling beer, he's the original "Hancock?VbCrLf -- but it's a strain to connect him to plot, if only because he himself doesn't seem very interested. At one point the elf prince tells him that if he kills the giant forest god attacking Manhattan, it'll be extinct. So Hellboy puts a bullet in the creature's brain; everyone else marvels at its beauty, but Hellboy couldn't care less. The problem for del Toro is that he's been made responsible for a character who sees the creatures he's created only as punching bags. By the end, it's difficult to care about Hellboy either, no matter how awesome he might look. (PG-13) 110 min. <img src="http://www.styleweekly.com/StyleDev/2star.gif"> <b>S</b>
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