Ron Perlman as Hellboy
Selma Blair as Liz Sherman
Jeffrey Tambor as Dr. Tom Manning
Karel Roden as Grigori Rasputin
Rupert Evans as John Myers
John Hurt as Professor Bruttenholm
Corey Johnson as Agent Clay
Doug Jones as Abraham ‘Abe’ Sapien
Brian Caspe as Agent Lime
James Babson as Agent Moss
Biddy Hodson as Ilsa
David Hyde Pierce as Abe Sapien (voice)
Hellboy is a great looking movie with cool action, impressive special effects, and a strong character played by Ron Perlman. However, a confusing plot hurts it and it’s a bit hard to get into. Hellboy is still worth checking out, though.
Hellboy is based on the Dark Horse Comic by Mike Mignola.
During World War II, young Professor Bruttenholm and a group of U.S. soldiers disrupt a Nazi occult experiment. Under the guidance of Grigori Rasputin, the Nazis attempt to unleash a demon from hell upon their enemies. Rasputin briefly opens a doorway to another dimension, but it is quickly shut when the Americans intervene. Rasputin is killed and his associates flee. However, a young demon still makes it through the portal and is captured by Professor Bruttenholm. They name him ‘Hellboy’.
Flash forward to the present day and we find that the U.S. government has formed a secret organization to fight paranormal creatures the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.). Professor Bruttenholm works for them along with his adopted son, Hellboy, and a group of other monsters and misfits. Despite being 60 years old, Hellboy is still mentally and physically a teenager. And though the BPRD tries to keep his existence secret, he still occasionally sneaks out and is spotted. Hellboy also has a crush on a BPRD firestarter named Liz Sherman.
When Hellboy and the BPRD investigate a monster on the rampage in a New York museum, they make a startling revelation. Rasputin has been raised from the dead by his associates Kroenen and Ilsa. Rasputin is also determined to capture Hellboy and use him to re-open the portal to hell to again attempt to bring about the end of the world. The monster they unleash, Sammael, is only intended as a lure to bring Hellboy to the location for the portal. Will Hellboy be able to resist them or will be revert to the demonic nature he was born for?
Hellboy is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and frightening images.
Before starting this review, I’d better explain my mindset going into the screening of this film. In the summer of 2003 I was invited to the set of Hellboy in Prague. Though I was familiar with the comic character, I had never read any Hellboy stories. Before I went to the set, I read all of the Hellboy stories I could find including Seed Of Destruction, the comic this movie is primarily based on. I thought the story might make a good movie, but I wasn’t sure how mainstream audiences would get into it. After seeing the movie made and talking with Guillermo del Toro, I realized that they had a true love for the source material but I still didn’t have a sense of if the movie would be good or bad. However, the first trailers really impressed me and convinced me that the movie would be great. Now, after having seen it, I can say that there were things I liked and things I didn’t like about Hellboy.
First of all, Ron Perlman is excellent as Hellboy. The makeup is fantastic and he truly embodies the comic character. He nailed Hellboy’s attitude perfectly. The movie only really rocks when he’s on screen and his humorous comments keep the story entertaining. Hellboy is in top form when Perlman is battling monsters or pining after Liz Sherman. His streak of jealousy when Liz spends time with Agent Myers is also great for some laughs. del Toro always said that Hellboy was a teenager at heart and Perlman really gets that across in his performance. He sneaks out of the house, hides his cigars from his father, and writes lovesick letters to Liz. It makes him unique aside from his bizarre look. I also like the themes of nature vs. nurture in the film. Despite being a demon from hell, he still has a choice as to which path he will take. It’s an interesting theme and it is well covered in the movie.
The supporting characters are also great. The makeup for Abe Sapien is first rate and he has a really unique look. Some scenes where he fights Sammael underwater are some of the more impressive moments in the movie. Also cool is the evil Kroenen. I’ve heard him described as the Darth Maul of Hellboy and that’s an accurate statement. He has incredible fight scenes and does amazing moves, but he doesn’t really have any lines. Besides Hellboy, he steals every scene he’s in. John Hurt is also perfect as Professor Bruttenholm. He’s also incredibly close to his comic book incarnation and he has a great father / son relationship with Hellboy.
Guillermo del Toro has also made a fantastic looking movie. The sets are amazing and Prague makes a good substitution for New York. The colors in some of the night scenes have a distinct yellow hue to them and they offset the red of Hellboy nicely. Some of the underground lairs are also greatly enhanced by CG to great effect. Other CG effects in the movie are impressive. The CG Sammael looks better than the man in a rubber suit that occasionally substitutes for him. His fights scenes with Hellboy are quite impressive and the highlights of the action in the movie.
What Didn’t Work:
As much as I went into Hellboy expecting to love it, I was a bit disappointed by the final product. The problem was I never got into the story. You know how in some movies there’s a point where you’re really into the story and you realize, “Hey! This is really working!” That point never really came in Hellboy. There were times that things really started clicking. This happened in some scenes like the opening fight sequence, the battle with Sammael or when Hellboy stalks Liz and Agent Myers. In those moments the audience and I really laughed and cheered. However, those moments usually ended quickly and the film moved on to some other scene where the plot shifted gears completely.
I think the reason I never got into it was because the movie tried to be too many things at once. At some points it’s like Men In Black. In other moments it’s like Ghostbusters. In other scenes it’s like Perlman’s Beauty and the Beast. At other times it emphasizes that Hellboy is some legendary creature like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Then it becomes X-Men and other times Blade. Because it jumps around in tone and content so much it never really nails any of them down. I loved the whole concept of the movie, but the final formula that worked always seemed just out of reach.
Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the overall plot was rather convoluted. I had a hard time trying to retell what the movie was about in the synopsis above because, to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure what it was about. Rasputin’s plan is very confusing and I’m not entirely sure why he needed Hellboy. I’m also not sure why Rasputin freed Sammael or why it was necessary that the bad guys break into BPRD headquarters. Maybe it will make more sense upon additional viewings, but if I was that confused having read the comic, I can imagine that mainstream audiences who aren’t familiar with Hellboy will be confused as well.
Hellboy also occasionally featured really cheesy moments that ruined the feel of the film. In one scene Hellboy saves a box of kittens while battling Sammael, then declares to the owner that it’s just his job. Ugh. Then in another scene Hellboy is running in mid-air ala Scooby and Shaggy as a bridge falls apart underneath him. It didn’t look that good. Fortunately, the cool moments outweigh the bad ones, but they are still there.
As for the music, Marco Beltrami delivers a quirky score that is really unique. I noticed that it was especially bizarre during the credits and didn’t seem to fit the film at all. I might like it better upon later viewings, but my initial impression was that it was weird.
The Bottom Line:
I think the excellent trailers and commercials are going to draw mainstream audiences into this movie on the first weekend, but attendance will probably drop off quickly after that. This film is mainly for comic book geeks, and even they may find it hard to get into. Still, I think it’s worth checking out on the big screen if you’re even slightly interested. I think seeing it with an audience may help.