Hellboy review by The Grim Ringler

Call me cynical but I get the feel this movie is gonna tank. It’s too weird, the hero isn’t exactly pretty, and people have never heard the word Hellboy again. I just don’t see it doing well. Which sucks because while this film does have an awkward pace, it’s a very fun little action movie and shows what a great talent Ron Perlman (as the ‘boy) is. Adapted from the long running sci-fi horror indie comic of the same name, Hellboy is a very well made superhero film with a very big heart and an even bigger red devil fella. But, telling a tale of finding one’s humanity and love lost and found again, I can’t help but shake the feeling that this one’s going to get lost in the shuffle.

Beginning during the middle of the second World War, with Hitler and his regime making a bold move to end the war by enlisting the help of Rasputin (the maaaaaaad monk ladies and gentleman) and a supernatural device he has promised will bring about the fall of Hitler’s enemies. Tipped to the plan though is a young scientist who works for a hush-hush government agency set in place to counter Hitler in his gains for a paranormal edge. Backed by a small American force the young scientist gets the drop on Rasputin and the Nazi soldiers as they open a doorway into a dimension where seven sleeping demons are waiting to be awakened and set loose upon the earth to feast, but as the gateway opens the Americans launch their attack and Rasputin, his henchman Kroenen, and the rest of the Nazi force are vanquished and the gateway is closed before the evil gods of old can slip through the portal. It appears that the worst was avoided and the now diminished American force sets about the task of securing the area. Hidden in the dark of an old tomb though is a small, strange creature that looks like a small child but which is red, has a tail, and two tiny horns on its head. Just as the military men are about to fire about what looks like a small devil and what they take as a monster, the scientist holds them back and lures it out into the open with candy bars and shows to the men that it’s ‘harmless’. The man adopts the strange child and gives it the unfortunate name of Hellboy, thus beginning what will become a long, strange relationship between the two of them. Kept inside a vast underground military complex as a ‘guest’, Hellboy is a young man in a monster’s body. Not aging as a human would (and sanding down his horns to look more normal, if that’s possible), Hellboy is a loner who both loves and fears his ‘father’ and who works (with another supernatural mutant named Abe Sapien) secretly to help the government quell supernatural enemies. Though rumors that Hellboy exists are becoming more solid he remains a myth, and the agency wishes to keep it that way, despite the fact that Hellboy is their begrudging guest. Hellboy is content to do his part, not questioning his father’s wish to have him destroy these monsters that sprout up, but not happy either. Desperately in love with a young human woman named Liz who had stayed in the complex until recently, Hellboy refuses to give up his love for her, no matter how much she insists he must. And it is this love which has lead Hellboy to be seen by the public time and again and it is this love which is becoming very dangerous for the agency. Sent to act as a caretaker and friend is a young FBI agent fresh out of Quantico and astounded by the world he is suddenly a part of. Almost immediately though he, Hellboy and Abe are called into duty and must track down an ancient monster raised from the dead at a museum. While things are rough at first Hellboy gets the upper hand on the monster and manages to kill it, not knowing that those who resurrected it have worked a spell that with ever incarnation killed, two shall be re-born until the underground is teeming with the things. And when they find out that the people who resurrected the beast were Rasputin, back from the dead, and his cronies, things go from bad to worse, as Liz becomes a tool in which Rasputin can lure Hellboy to his destiny. Rasputin, who had summoned Hellboy when he had opened the portal during WWII, knows Hellboy’s true name and purpose – to open a gateway between worlds and to call the demon gods of old back to earth to destroy mankind, and slowly the pieces are set into place to force our hero to choose his destiny or to create his own.

A friend told me today that he didn’t like Hellboy because it felt too much like you had to be into this universe to get anything out of it, and while I can understand what he is saying, I don’t really agree. There is a lot here to digest, and while there are moments that feel a bit rushed and others that are too slowly paced for a theater atmosphere, director Guillermo Del Toro does an admirable job of getting you invested and involved with this world. Hellboy, as portrayed by Ron Perlman is a tragic character that isn’t mopey and depressed. He understands what he is and what is purpose is, and though he may not like these things, he accepts them. What breaks his heart is that, though Liz may indeed love him, they can never be a ‘normal’ couple and he can never give her the life she deserves. But Hellboy is a great character because even he sees the ridiculousness of the world he inhabits. But everyone has their job to do and this is his. And as large as the scale of this film is, Del Toro does well to not let the set pieces become more important than the characters. While this isn’t always successful and some of the action does overshadow the people (such as the finale which centers on Liz being used as a bargaining chip to convince Hellboy to open the, well Hell Gate), but I don’t know how many directors could have made this film any more evenly than Del Toro and I think that this is a mere quibble in the grand scope of the film. The relationship between Hellboy and Liz and Hellboy and his father are both wonderful, though again, I wish there had been more. These troubled relationships ground the film and the character so that it doesn’t just become a movie about one monster beating the snot out of other monsters. And while this wasn’t an inexpensive film per se, the effects and set design are wonderful and in places breathtaking.

What I love about the film is Hellboy and the job Perlman does with him and in creating a very real, very strong character. I love this world of monsters and ancient evil. Instead of the usual evil supervillians we have creatures and things which hail from the same dimension as Hellboy and which he is supposed to share a kinship with but doesn’t. I love the way Del Toro tells tales, using the special effects as just another tool to tell the tale and not as distractions from a weak story. I love the action and humor, which worked hand-in-hand to create a more full sense of who Hellboy is and his world. And I liked the subtle (and at times not so subtle) notion that this monster is helping a human race that, were they to know of his existence, would hate him. Yes, it’s a theme covered in X-Men, but this film takes it in directions that don’t seem well worn.

But there are issues with the film. The movie has an odd pace and ends well after the momentum has been lost, and while this was necessary, it is anti-climactic. The relationships are very good sketches but are never fully realized, which may be a matter of how long the film had to be, but which still hinders the film. We never really get a strong feel for the love Hellboy has for his father nor do we see how Liz sees Hellboy. Some of the special effects do come off as fakey, though I don’t hold that against the film as most movies still have that problem when dealing with fast motion or lots of action with digital characters. And for me, the villains are not terribly well created. They are very good villains and Kroenen is a very fearful monster and henchman, hidden beneath a blackened mask and dressed out with spinning knives, but we never get a feel for who Ilsa, Kroenen, or Rasputin are. They’re bad guys and that’s it. And finally I wish that the climax was a bit more full. Things happen pretty quickly and I guess I wish that the drama of Hellboy making his choice of what path he wishes to take was a bit more detailed.

But to me, these aren’t really deal-breakers. This is a very good film and a very fun one at that. As to how well it stand up to the more recent comic book adaptations, I think pretty favorably. It isn’t perfect but it, like the first X-Men films creates a world I would love to visit again and to see what else there was to it. From what I have read there’s a lot more to see and that quite a bit of content will emerge in a longer Special Edition DVD cut of the film so that may work out some of the kinks that I had with the movie. Still a very solid flick and one I hope to see many more times.


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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