Egon Endrenyi, Universal Studios
Hellboy, played by Ron Perlman, locks and loads in "Hellboy II: The Golden Army."
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY — *** — Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones; rated PG-13 (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, torture, nude art)

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is one of the coolest-looking movies, if not the most visually impressive one, of the summer.

The film's creatures — which include trolls, goblins, elves, evil fairies, ectoplasmic entities and such — are fantastic. In fact, at times this comic book-based sequel almost seems like an audition tape for one of screenwriter/director Guillermo del Toro's upcoming projects, a movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved fantasy "The Hobbit."

Still, like its 2004 predecessor, this fun and cheeky action-thriller is very much an acquired taste. It's pretty dark and violent, and is definitely too much for younger audiences.

Also, at times it seems as if del Toro has fallen in love with the visual spectacle he's created and forgets to concentrate on the storytelling.

The title character, as played by Ron Perlman, is a stone-fisted demon who has turned his back on his fellow demons and is helping mankind.

He has even joined the top-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense with his lady love, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and the brainy amphibian Abe Sapien (Doug Jones).

But they also have a new, by-the-book boss, Johann Kraus (the voice of "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane), a gaseous entity that's contained within a special suit.

Together, this unusual team must stop an evil elf prince, Nuada (Luke Goss), who's trying to gain control over an unstoppable mechanical army that will help him conquer mankind.

As with almost all of his films, del Toro attempts to add some commentary here — there are definite environmental statements and a condemnation of xenophobia.

But he's more successful when he tries to lighten the mood. An impromptu sing-along bit between Hellboy and Abe is a hoot.

He can also direct an action scene, and some of the creature duels are very exciting.

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of violent action and some disturbing imagery (including creatures attacks, gunplay, sword fighting, stabbings, vehicular and explosive mayhem, and child-in-peril elements), gore and blood, as well as creature goo, scattered profanity and vulgar slang terms, a scene of interrogation (done for laughs), and glimpses of nude statues. Running time: 110 minutes.