Thomas Thompson


14th August 2004
Hellboy Poster reviewer: Thomas Thompson
rating: 4 out of 5
directed by: Guillermo del Toro
written by: Mike Mignola(comic)
starring: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden
genre: Adventure Horror Sci-Fi Action
released: 3rd September 2004

Not knowing much about the Hellboy mythos going into this, having not read the comics, I don't know how well the film follows the source material. I don't know if having read the source material prior would have increased or decreased my enjoyment of the latest Hollywood adaptation of a comic book. I do know that the originator of the paper based cult hit following the exploits of a big red demon man battling monsters had a large role in the films production, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say it doesn't rape the series of what makes it good. Just a hunch, likesay.

Oh, and the movie is really fucking good.

The titular red demon is brought about by Nazi dealings in the occult, circa 1940s. When he is the sole entrant from a portal to the 'other side', as a young demon somewhat resembling a red monkey, his introduction into the world is something of a backdrop to an Allies v Nazis shootout. After the PG-13 violence dies down "Hell Boy" is coaxed into the arms of the good guys, and the nazis are defeated. For the time being.

Skip forward 50 years and the occult expert who found him is in his later years, and Hellboy is all grown up, in reverse dog years. He now works for the American government's (secret) Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense branch, going after various (bad) freaks and demons with the help of an aquatic watery chap with a high IQ named Abe, voiced by the slimmer Crane brother, as well as a few other characters that come into (and out of) play at varying intervals. The Nazis that summoned Hellboy, or at least the three main Nazis involved in the summoning, are back in the picture and want to complete what they started. They're the bad guys, Hellboy and his fellow comrades are the good guys, they do what good guys and bad guys do. Very entertainingly. And humorously. In a variety of settings, with all the various variables that keep a 2 hour film fresh all the way through.

Compared to Spiderman 2, the other summer blockbuster comic book movie, Hellboy is far less reality based, or at least it appears so, as the big red demon with a tail and horns has to stay out of the eyes of the public while he's chasing down canine-esque monsters. Canine-esque monsters who, incidentally, are reborn as two new canine-esque monsters every time one dies, thanks to the black magic of an evil Nazi monk named Rasputin, the lead bad guy. As such, the action often takes place away from the prying eyes of the public.

Where Spiderman can swing through the city freely, with the full support of New Yorkers, Hellboy is a cause for speculation akin to the Loch Ness Monster, or the Yeti. This is a pretty clear contrast when you look at both films' respective train sequences mid film. When Spiderman fights Doc Oc in broad daylight he ends up inside a train surrounded by New York's public commuters; New Yorkers who consider him one of their own, who feel indebted to him, and are going to put themselves between him and harm’s way when he's left vulnerable. When Hellboy chases one of the aforementioned 4 legged monsters through a dark subway, he jumps onto the front of the oncoming train and manages to grab onto the floor of the first carriage. His legs trailing under the train, his face peering into it. The train official proceeds to repeatedly attack Hellboy's head with a fire extinguisher. Ron Perlman's hoarse "We're on the same side!" is met with a "yeah right" from the New Jersey local. Hellboy isn't the widely loved dogooder vigilante that many of his fellow comic adaptation's are, yet he is the only one with government funding.

A romantic subplot (kind of a 2 and a half sided love triangle) makes for some great character development of the ashamedly horned one, and sets a nice break of pace from the action set pieces. The introduction to Hellboy is a shared experience with a transfer agent from the Federal Bureau set to be the new chaperone to the big man with all the witty one liners. It is he who offers the third pillar (or the half of one) in the subplot, as both he and Hellboy share an affection for the most human of the three 'gifted' agents, who has trouble controlling her pyrokinesis, and is possibly the one responsible for the largest death count in the picture.

Ron Perlman is an excellent lead as the title headliner. In the red makeup and broken horns he makes for a very commanding centrepiece to the film. He delivers every line with a perfectly suited gruff voice, with more than a hint of sarcasm, and makes the character of Hellboy, to my mind, the greatest of any comic book adaptation yet. His screen presence outweighs that of all prior leads in the genre, but then he is close to 7ft and a half(?) demon with a really big stone fist. Perfectly suited for the big screen then, and given a vehicle to impress in the form of a very strong and adapt action film. The only thing lacking then, is a nemesis worthy of the big "red".

It’s not so much that the three main enemies on offer aren't evil, they are: they're Nazis. And it’s not that they aren't developed enough, they don't need to be: they're Nazis. They aren't meant to have the development of someone like Doc Oc, or The Lizard (who seems to be set up as the next villain in the Spiderman franchise), they have their motives, and their history, but they aren't the stars of the show. Hellboy is. The problem is that Rasputin, the evil Nazi monk, and his loyal follower don't look like they'd last the first round with Hellboy. Which leaves the third chap to provide the menace through the film. And he does. He slices through Security guards and government officials. He looks the part, covered head to toe in black, with a gas mask to cover his aesthetically challenged face: all very Nazi like. But not really like the end of film climatic battler whose going to give Hellboy a run for his money. None of them do. But then they aren't out to battle Hellboy, they're out to convert him back to his intended path, to see out his destiny and destroy the earth. Plus they do have the growing numbers of dog monsters to help out. Still, there’s no one on the evil side with the kind of screen presence, screen ownership, that Hellboy has. But then maybe that’s a good thing. There is after all only one name in the title. And the knife guy, or ‘Kroenen’ as he’d probably rather be referred to, does an ample job in the mean time.

When the final match up does arrive it’s a bit of an anticlimax, simply because after all the quality that has already come to pass the big end of movie fight is all over very quickly. If it were a video game it'd be a matter of 'press A to defeat boss now'. It also feels ever so slightly ‘tagged on’ in that an odd edit sees the three characters going from at least two of them being conscious and alert to waking up in constraints, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks. Combined with something of a cliché soon after, and the end credits coming a bit earlier than you'd have liked, the ending is one of Hellboy's weaker points. It’s by no means terrible, but is a touch below the comic book gold that precedes it.

Speaking of comic books, the film is abound in references from the Hellboy series, some which are pretty obviously so, jumping out at you as they do, regardless of whether you've read the source material or not (I haven't, but the extras on the DVD offer some insight). There's also a scene more than an ounce similar to that in Blade II, Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman's previous collaboration, involving blood trickling through the grooves of a giant hieroglyph-alike. Watching it on DVD (imported, not pirated) perhaps the action side of things wasn't quite as effective as it would have been at the local cinema complex, but the 32" TV screen still packs enough of a punch. The CGI effects when used aren't noticeable (in the negative sense) for the most part, and its very easy to let the film entrance you for its duration, leaving you wanting more even after its two hours of runtime conclude.

Not without its faults, but one of, if not the, best moving pictures adapted from a comic book. A dark and funny film with an ending which doesn't quite meet the expectation set by the preceding 100 minutes (not dissimilar to this review, then), with little in the way of slow moments, and one hell (ahah) of a lead character. I'm left eagerly awaiting both the upcoming director's cut and the sequel.

A great action film, and a staple element in bringing the comic book genre further towards its potential and away from the likes of 'Batman and Robin', and cancelling out the recent non-event that was ‘The Hulk’. But primarily a great action flick, thanks to an excellent lead character, and a humorous script. One well worth going to see.