Barry Manilow’s classic love ballett “Can’t smile without you” blasts thru the halls of the B.P.R.D. (The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) as Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) sing along, naturally out of cue, while drinking beers and each brooding over there own special girl. The scene is wonderful, humerous, touching and well…priceless, and if reading that description raised your eyebrow or turned you off a bit, then I’d suggest skipping this movie.

While that particular level of humor is unmatched in the film (or in many others), the film is largely quick-witted and humerous throughout, often even during the fantastically choreographed and highly entertaining action scenes. It’s a film thankfully unrestrained from studio suits, second guessing or backseat directing, as Director Guillermo Del Toro has, by all accounts and appearances, been given full reign and creative control after his worldwide phenomenon Pans Labrynth of a few years back. And thank the film gods for that blessed miracle, and thank the continued success of the comic book film industry (basically holding hollywood on its back these days) for such a wonderous treat as Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

The sequel to 2004’s Hellboy is both a welcome return to favorite characters and a breath of fresh air to a young film franchise that often seemed to suffucate under its own weight during the sometimes fun, sometimes heavy and boring, and sometimes amazing first film. In the sequel, Hellboy and gang find themselves up against Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) and his army of fable creatures set on reclaiming the earth from the human species they feel has grown greedy and heartless, and who have nearly destroyed the once proud planet, forcing there kind into exile. Hellboy must stop Prince Nuada from finding the location of The Golden Army, a large army of monsterious metal creatures who can only be controlled by the unchallenged leader of the realm. To control the army, Nuada will need to reforge an ancient crown that was broken into pieces millenia ago to prevent the army from being awakened ever again. To stop him, his sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) hides the last piece from him and seeks the B.P.R.D.’s help.

Aside from the Army plotline and Prince Nuada, the movie also focuses on Hellboy’s relationship with everyone around him. His relationship with B.P.R.D. head honcho Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) has fizzeled since there reconsciliation at the end of the previous film; His romantic relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) is hitting a rocky point, and she carries a surprise for him thru most of the movie, a delightful surprise the audience is let in on very early on in the film. And then there is Hellboy’s need to draw attention to himself, his need to make everyone like him. As a result of his ego, the B.P.R.D. are outed to the public in the first chunk of the movie, making his rocky relationship with Manning even more so, and forcing the powers that be to send a new agent to take over command of the squad.

That new commander is the highly entertaining Johann Kraus (voiced by Seth Macfarlane), who is basically a robotic body with the spirit of a brilliant scientist living within it. He sounds a bit like the robot on Lost in Space and looks like a bounty hunter from Star Wars, only much more entertaining. Another Star Wars cantina-esche moment is when Hellboy, Kraus and Abe enter a warped version of Diagon Alley from Harry Potter, filled with dozens of amazing creatures, all which put anything in the cantina (or anything else in the films) to shame with its level of detail and originality. At least 6 or 7 times in this movie you will see something and say to yourself: “Boy, I haven’t seen that before.”

It’s simply an enjoyable, fantastic adventure story with great characters and great writing. The character designs and visuals are breathtakingly cool, and Del Toro’s visual flair from Pans Labrynth is once again on full display here. Nowhere have we seen such original, interesting and vibrant looking characters. The result is a scope and believability rarely achieved in such fantasy films like this. Even the action is on a level unachieved in many of its comic book film peers, often adding twists to the excitement, such as Hellboy carrying an infant in one hand while hopping cars, buildings and loading very large guns with the other. Mixed with the same trademark humor from the first film and some strong hints at a possible third film, and it all makes Hellboy II the latest in this summer’s trend of spectacular comic book adaptations. A must see!