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Hellboy II: The Golden Army 

Hellboy, Liz and Abe let their freak flags fly with pride.

It took a while, but with Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, summer escapism has finally gotten playful. One key: Both movies have the humility to not surpass two hours. Guillermo del Toro's second adventure featuring comic artist Mike Mignola's demon-fighting son of Satan is easy to take seriously, precisely because, unlike The Incredible Hulk and TV's Heroes, the film knows when not to take itself seriously. Here, del Toro improves on the sometimes-draggy first Hellboy, enriching the film's characters to the point where their world-saving mission comes secondary to scenes where they get to hang out. Hellboy (Ron Perlman), his flammable girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and their anthropoid fish friend Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) fly their freak flag. They're the table of weird kids in the high school cafeteria who had too much fun to give a shit. That self-pride frees Hellboy II from the expected woe-is-me identity crisis, and provides its title character's dilemma. Hellboy's uncomfortable knowing he's hired to protect normal people from ever having to see those who are different. This is explored within the film's parameters of good and evil---when honour turns to selfishness, and when defense turns to barbarism. But Hellboy II's lack of priority keeps its themes buried too long. It's too loaded with things happening to quite attain the poignance and clarity that del Toro wants it to. Yet, of this season's comic book action movies so far, Hellboy II looks the best and feels the brightest.

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