Hellboy (2004) / Action-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and scary images
Running Time: 132 min.
Cast: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ladislav Beran, Doug Jones, Corey Johnson, David Hyde Pierce (voice of Abe Sapien)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro
Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" was a favorite comic of mine for a short while, back when it first appeared in Dark Horse comics in the pages of John Byrne's "Next Men", back in early 1990s. I enjoyed the humor, and the interesting artwork, but ultimately dropped it from my pull list because, once the interesting set-up was resolved, it never really grabbed me sufficiently again. Now Hellboy sees the big-screen treatment, and my expectations coming in were something akin to my feeling after League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Spawn -- it looked like it would by nothing but dark, violent action eschewing dialogue and characterizations for special effects. I would be disingenuous in telling you that the strengths of Hellboy doesn't come from the action and eye-candy, as it does provide more screen time than anything else. However, what elevates Guillermo del Toro's latest horror hybrid into something entertaining comes from the originality of the characters and the high doses of comic relief from the main character himself. It's a fun movie.
Del Toro's film starts off with an origin of sorts, set back in the waning days of World War II, where the Nazi army has taken to more desperate measures to keep their mission alive, which includes opening a portal to Hell to draw darker powers. The plan is botched, but an odd creature manages to make it through the portal, a demon child who is adopted as a son by one of the scientists who eye-witnesses the event. He is given the moniker of Hellboy, and we flash forward to today, where a now adult demon (he ages in something akin to reverse dog years) is used as a government agent trying to take down all manifestations of supernatural creatures while also trying to keep a low profile for the unsuspecting public. He rarely has any problems with his assigned task, fulfilling them with cocky arrogance, but he gets more than he bargained for when coming up against Rasputin and his hordes of creatures that keep resurrecting themselves. Rasputin has diabolical plans for Hellboy, which includes seeing him in his rightful place as a lord of demons in an Earth taken over by the dark powers that be.
This is del Toro's second comic book flick, coming on the heels of the modest hit Blade 2, the improved hit sequel to Stephen Norrington's Blade. The material seems right up his alley, as he has directed several pictures of a darker nature, including Mimic and The Devil's Backbone. It is with Hellboy that del Toro seems most at ease, never losing the tone or vision of the film from beginning to end, and faithfully capturing not only the essential ingredients of Mignola's creation, but also deriving much of the storyline and plot developments from the comics themselves. It's a hodgepodge of various styles, pulp horror/fantasy and deeper mythos, blended into an irreverent delivery for easier consumption. It's a moving picture comic book, after all.
If there is a downside to the film, it's the same thing that can be said of most comic book adaptations: it tries to do too much too soon. Much of the storyline relies on the viewers to fill in the blanks as to what is going on, rather than a full understanding of who these characters are and how they came to exist. Basically, we just have to resolve that certain people are good, certain creatures are bad, and whatever they are fighting over the ultimate fate of the world. If it doesn't always elaborate, at least the action moves fast enough for us not to dwell too much on the finer details in order to have a chuckle, fright or adrenaline-charged battle in every scene.
Hellboy makes for some fun escapist entertainment for fans of the the darker comic style films, such as Men in Black, X-Men, and Blade. It exists to take you to a fantastical world, but sets modest sights on just giving you laughs and action. Nothing too deep, but there is a lot of ground yet to be uncovered from the material, and for a fast-moving diversion, Hellboy does justice to its graphical print counterpart quite well.
-- Followed by Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
©2004 Vince Leo