Here's a riddle...
If you put 150-200 sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and/or comic book nerds in a room at one time, how long will it take before one of the nerds brings up Bruce Campbell? 16 minutes.
I was lucky enough to get into an advanced screening of Hellboy II : The Golden Army tonight and, after the Q & A began, that was the amount of time that expired before a guy stood up and asked Guillermo Del Toro if Campbell would be playing Lobster Johnson (??) in Hellboy III. [NOTE: BTW, I love nerds. I use the term in an affectionate way. I consider myself one, just of a different type.]
I appreciated the question, because it was at that moment that I realized why I've never liked a Guillermo Del Toro film. His intentions are those of a populist, but his films always bear the mark of exclusivity. Where Del Toro's cup runneth over in terms of imagination, design, and concept, his is a quarter full when it comes to understanding the foibles, sensitivities, and motives of humanity. (This could explain the awkward, muddied, and somewhat pessimistic ending of Hellboy II.)
It's a shame, because Hellboy II has elements of what is sorely missing within the limp comic book movie franchises of today (save The Incredible Hulk, perhaps...). Namely, it's fun. There's also puppetry; creatures you can reach out and touch. If anything, Hellboy II feels fresh because it lives. In fact, there is a sequence in a "troll market" that feels almost revelatory in its special effects realism. I suspect this film is exactly what Star Wars fans were craving from Lucas with his prequel trilogy.
I haven't seen the original Hellboy, but according to Del Toro, it doesn't matter... Hellboy II exists on its own. The setting is modern times, but centuries ago humans and mutants signed a truce after wars of high casualties. Centuries later, humans are wrecking the Earth and the mutants have been marginalized. A rogue mutant goes revolutionary and intends to unleash the now dormant golden army on humanity to take the world back. That's it. The rest is Del Toro unleashed: a fun boy in a toy shop with a big budget to play with. If that's your thing then you're probably in for a treat.
Personally, and for all of his personable jolliness, I sense a bitterness in Del Toro. In this way, he is not unlike Hellboy himself. In the film's first sequence we see a wide-eyed 7-year old Hellboy watching TV, brushing his teeth, and grinning at a bedtime story at the knee of father figure John Hurt. Flash forward to Hellboy as adult and we see a cynical cigar chomper, a short-fused thug, a creature who feels unappreciated for his work. In comparison, Del Toro's films feel like that of a jaded man child. Each time innocence peers out its head, a whack-a-mallet beats it back.
This was true of Pan's Labyrinth. For all its wonder, it left me with a feeling of contempt. For all the praise of it being a fairy tail for adults, it was ultimately a rejection of escapism through imagination. I don't doubt that Guillermo Del Toro has a big heart, I just wish he would open it up.