Release Date: April 2nd, 2004 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Guillermo del Toro Actors: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Bridget Hodson
uillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy” implements countless impressive ideas, including sharp computer graphics fused with animatronics and puppeteering, ingenious character designs, and fascinating antagonist monstrosities. But for all of its undeniable visual flair, the film weakens with an onslaught of sore-thumb dialogue and a regimen of predictable plot devices – namely, constant artificial contrivances. There’s also an abundance of the ever-popular need for heroes and villains to strike a lingering, poster-perfect pose before and after every action sequence.
During World War II, Rasputin (Karl Roden) aids the Nazis in opening up a portal to another world, which is abruptly shut when U.S. forces grenade the operation. Although Rasputin is destroyed, a tiny red creature is left behind on Earth to be raised by Professor Broom (John Hurt). Dubbed Hellboy, the demon soon grows into a powerful crime-fighter intent on keeping extra terrestrial baddies at bay.
Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is not alone in his alien origins; he’s joined by Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), an amphibious creature that possesses incredible knowledge, and Elizabeth “Liz” Sherman (Selma Blair), a human woman with pyrokinetic, firestarter capabilities – though she routinely struggles to harness her volatile power. Together, the group works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), tasked with continually and covertly cleaning up the messes left by extraterrestrial life forms. But Hellboy’s greatest challenge will arrive in the form of resurrected enemies from the past – and combating romantic feelings for Liz.
The action sequences are all fast-paced, expertly choreographed, and arrive just in time to speed up the story when things get too convoluted or unexplainable. Seamlessly blending computer-animated models of Hellboy, hellhound Sammael, Abe Sapien, and many others with practical effects, the film achieves a startlingly realistic look. Like James Cameron’s “Aliens,” the various monsters have a rubbery, tangible appearance, slaver real slime, and appear to be actors in costumes more often than not. And this is a good thing, because it prevents visual annoyances (particularly with gravity) like those found in most major fantasy films, in which spider-men effortlessly swing from concrete jungle rooftops or hulking green juggernauts float through vast canyons.
A stepping-stone to del Toro’s next visual masterpiece (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), “Hellboy” utilizes many unquestionably unique character designs and creature concepts. From Nazi-robot Kroenen’s hideously scarred visage (and his skill with bladed weapons, though not as cool as V from “V For Vendetta”), to Sammael’s lumbering cartilaginous figure, to Abe Sapien’s twitching webbed hands, the oddities speak wonders for both the makeup crew and original comic book creator Mike Mignola. Along with these bizarre sights are idiosyncrasies and affecting personalities bestowed on every human and monster alike, allowing for personable and relatable qualities from such inhuman concoctions as a giant, crimson-skinned demon. The charisma of Hellboy (ample credit goes to Ron Perlman) and his wide array of emotions make the human liaison to the audience, Agent John Meyers (Rupert Evans), nearly obsolete. The set designs are also mesmerizing and numerous, from snowy graveyards to steaming sewers to a booby-trapped underground maze.
“Hellboy” deserves recognition for its innovative approach to visuals in a comic book adaptation, but loses points for trite dialogue from many of the supporting characters. The plot is also disappointing, with its tangled legend and prophecy jargon (and otherworldly nonsense), which simply doesn’t fit with the awe-inspiring characters battling across the screen. Ultimately, the fun eludes the ruddy Hellboy himself, despite all of the action, comedy, machismo, violence, destruction, romance, and vivacity whirling around him.
– Mike Massie