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‘Hellboy II’ falls from grace

Despite a handful of creepy and visionary sequences, this sloppy sequel marks a huge step down for "Pan's Labyrinth" director Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 “Hellboy,” based on the popular Mike Mignola comics about a spawn of Satan who heroically helps humanity fight off beasts and bad guys from all dimensions, was no classic, but it’s certainly looking a lot better now that “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is hitting theaters. Despite a handful of creepy and visionary sequences, this sequel remains limp and unengaging.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) continues his work for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, but he’s increasingly annoyed at having to remain in the shadows, per the dictum of government liaison Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor). Also irritating Hellboy is the cold shoulder he’s been getting from his girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a woman whose pyrokinetic powers allow her to burst into flames without harming herself.

Joining them at the BPRD is the amphibious Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who senses what’s really happening with Liz, even though the audience can figure out first — she’s pregnant and not sure if she wants to have a Helltot. These sitcom-ish personal dilemmas are swept aside, however, when Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), son of the Woodland King, decides to violate the millennia-old peace treaty between humans and the goblins, trolls and fairies. The prince has tracked down the missing piece of a crown that will allow him to control the fabled Golden Army, an unstoppable force of mechanical men, which he will use to destroy mankind.

On paper, this all sounds like perfect material for del Toro, whose “Pan’s Labyrinth” represented a quantum leap for a filmmaker whose unique style often obscured whatever substance his films had. But in “Hellboy II,” we’re back to pretty pictures and opaque plotting, with a screenplay (by del Toro, based on a story by del Toro and Mignola) lacking any momentum or even verve.

Every so often, we’ll get a rousing sequence — an invasion of nasty fairies that want to eat your teeth, a rampaging plant monster, a secret marketplace for trolls — but “Hellboy II” provides precious little to string them together.

The Hellboy/Liz stuff is utterly uninteresting (this may be the first truly bad performance I’ve ever seen Blair deliver) and Abe’s crush on Nuada’s sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), just lies there as well. Perlman and Tambor try to bring their talents to the table but are constantly undercut by the script; Hellboy acts petulant for most of the movie, and Tambor’s character sets up laughs that just never come.

While Doug Jones is a brilliant physical performer — he played both the faun and the eyes-in-the-hands monster in “Pan’s” — his vocal interpretation of Abe isn’t compelling in the slightest. (David Hyde Pierce did a far superior job voicing the character in the first film.)

Also not helping matters is the addition of a new character, the by-the-book Johann Krauss (voiced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, adding to his crimes against comedy), a being made up entirely of smoke. It’s a pity that so much of “Hellboy II” is equally wispy.