Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The first Hellboy movie works in a great many ways. Based on Mike Mignola's excellent comics, it's the story of a demon who is summoned to earth by Rasputin (while working for Nazis) but rescued, raised, and employed by the U.S. government. Ron Perlman, "the ugliest man in Hollywood" was the perfect choice for the role; he made Hellboy, like any great pulp hero, as good with a quip as with a punch, and frequently dealing out the two together. "Visionary director" Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Blade II) was the perfect man for the job, and the movie worked as an adventure movie, a love-story, a horror movie, a story of family dysfunction, a buddy-comedy, and, like all of del Toro's movies, as a cinematic treatment of the fantastic rendered in luminous colors.
But it didn't work as an action movie. There wasn't a single high-octane fight in the entire movie.
Consider that rectified. Hellboy II is superior to Hellboy in almost every single way, and it starts with the action. There are at least a dozen great action sequences: elf-prince and troll bodyguard vs. elf soldiers, Hellboy vs. troll bodyguard, Hellboy vs. giant plant-god, elf-prince vs. drunken Hellboy, Hellboy and the Ectoplasmic Johann Krauss vs. the titular golden army. Over and over again, Del Toro delivers the action goods.
Besides that, Hellboy II is more of the same, and that's a good thing. Our hero is still ugly, snarky, hemmed in by a comical bureaucrat (AD's Jeffrey Tambor), ably aided by a fishy sidekick, and in love with a prickly pyrokinetic. It's a recipe for fun, and it is fun - a ride through the world of pulp heroics and mythological evil of Mike Mignola, with the comedy and pyrotechnics delivered by Guillermo del Toro.
I don't want to say that del Toro has topped Pan's Labyrinth here, because both Labyrinth and Hellboy II deliver such otherworldly beauty that I wouldn't want to choose between them. The beauty of Labyrinth is more ethereal and otherworldly; it represents a spirit world which we can dream of, and briefly enter, but never control. The spirit world of Hellboy II, on the other hand, is pissed off and aching to wage war on humanity. It's a rough and tumble world populated by every imaginable monstrosity, from miniature calcium-devouring "tooth fairies" to the giant horde of mechanical monsters that drives the plot. But pretty much the same thing happens to all of them. Our heroic demon punches them in the face.
I think that should have been the tagline for Hellboy II: "It's like Pan's Labyrinth, except a big red demon punches things in the face." Yeah, that just about sums it up.