The first Hellboy movie followed a goofy-looking, cigar-chomping hell-spawn as he battled, in director Guillermo del Toro's words, ''Nazis, cosmic portals, and monsters from another dimension.'' It was a quirky film that found a cult audience, earning $59 million at the box office during the spring of 2004. But with the sequel opening at the height of the summer blockbuster season, expectations now seem much higher, given del Toro's success with Pan's Labyrinth. So will del Toro dial down his signature weirdness to attract the masses? Not a chance. ''This one is, if anything, more idiosyncratic than the first one,'' he chuckles. Where Hellboy had a few fantastical creatures, this one has hordes of them. The script is steeped in ''folklore, myth, and fantasy,'' says the director, but also makes time for some domestic comedy between Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his pyrokinetic girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair). The couple are now sharing an apartment. ''It's not going well,'' says Perlman. ''So Hellboy's response is to start drinking while he's saving the world from an archvillain who's determined to do, you know, very arch things.''
And while The Golden Army is a summer superhero movie, it still has a pointed message. In the film, ''the world [of] fantasy is literally dying,'' explains del Toro, so it rallies behind ''a rebel prince of Elfland'' bent on attacking the real world that left it behind. The director penned The Golden Army (based on an original story conceived with Mike Mignola, author of the Hellboy comic) while prepping the Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth, and the two have some thematic similarities. ''I was fresh out of reading so much material on the science of fairy tales,'' says del Toro, ''that it sort of seeped into this screenplay. It has a beautifully melancholic sense of loss about fantasy that I hope comes through. That, and kick-ass action.'' (July 11)