Movie Review: Hellboy (2004)

Hellboy (DVD)Hellboy (2004)

Starring Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Biddy Hodson and Dr. Niles Crane.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro.

When I got home from work Friday night, there was a pair of tickets for a Saturday afternoon matinée of Hellboy on the table. Though I’ve never read the Hellboy comics (graphic novels, whatever), I’ve been psyched about the movie since I learned that Ron Perlman would star. I became more psyched when I saw the first trailer a couple of months ago.

It should be noted that I love movies based on comic book heroes. I love good movies based on good heroes, I love bad movies based on bad heroes, and I love everything in between. It should also be noted that I know the difference between a bad comic book movie and a good comic book movie.

Did you see:

  • Captain America starring Matt Salinger? That was a bad comic book movie.
  • The two made for TV Captain America movies starring Reb Brown? Those were both bad comic book movies.
  • The Punisher, starring Dolph Lundgren? Ouch.
  • The original X-Men? What’s this? That didn’t suck! That didn’t suck at all!
  • Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire? Sweet! It’s the Spidey I’d always hoped to see on the big screen!
  • X2: X-Men United? Hell yeah, we’re on a roll!
  • Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck? Oops! Can’t win ’em all I guess. But it’s not a total dud.
  • Hulk, starring Eric Bana and a bunch of green pixels? Flawed, but I still enjoyed it.

Hellboy is this year’s first superhero movie. Later this month, Thomas Jane will attempt to right the wrongs perpetrated by Dolph Lundgren and company when The Punisher hits the big screen again. Then there’s a bit of a wait (unless you count Van Helsing, opening May 7th) until Spider-Man 2 hits in July. After that … well, I don’t know of anything after that, off the top of my head.

First off, Laura and I both liked Hellboy. For a movie of this genre, that’s saying quite a bit. I’ll sit through just about anything superhero-related (see: the Captain Marvel and Captain America black and white serials of 1941 and 1944, respectively). Laura is not nearly so patient, tolerant, or forgiving of her movies. Granted, she enjoyed X2 quite a bit, but there’s a big difference between what she’ll sit through and what I will.

Though my knowledge of the original source material is admittedly scarce, I do know that Ron Perlman is the perfect choice to play the title character. Hellboy is cock-sure, laid-back and a bunch of other hyphenated stuff. He’s also very funny and can be incredibly sensitive. Perlman brings every aspect of that personality to the screen flawlessly. Couple the performance with excellent makeup/prosthetics/costuming, and you’ve got a brilliant lead character.

David Hyde Pierce is another fabulous casting choice. Granted, it’s just his voice, but that voice fits the character and the physical manifestation of Abe Sapien to a tee. The body is supplied by a fellow named Doug Jones, of whom you’ve probably never heard, but have probably seen in other movies.

Rounding out the “freaks” is Selma Blair as Liz Sherman. She’s a very dark character, with a lot of insecurity, fear, and self-loathing. She’s also Hellboy’s love interest. Oh, and she tends to start fires with her mind when she’s traumatized. Like pretty much every other character in the movie, this is a solid performance and I have absolutely no complaints.

The rest of the good guys: John Hurt as Professor Broom, Rupert Evans as Agent John Myers, and Jeffrey Tambor as the oft-irritated Doctor Manning.

And then there are the bad guys. Nazis. In the history of cinema has there ever been a better group of bad guys? Look what they’ve got going for them: they’re snappy dressers, very punctual, extremely well organized, utterly ruthless, goal-oriented, and they’ve got some of the best theme music in history. They are, as Miscellaneous G™ points out, instantly identifiable as the bad guys whenever they appear. There’s never any ambiguity about it. Whether the protagonist is Indiana Jones, Captain America, or the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, as soon as you see a Nazi on the screen, you know he (or she) is a bad guy. Period.

These particular Nazis (including the lovely Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.) have joined forces with that dastardly villain, Rasputin. Seems that poisoning, shooting, stabbing, clubbing, hanging and drowning the bearded bastard just wasn’t enough to keep him down. Now (well, starting in 1944, actually) he’s helping Hitler’s jackbooted flunkies open a portal to the depths of outer space, where dark and hungry gods slumber in H.P. Lovecraft’s shadow.

It is in this manner that Hellboy arrives on Earth. The portal is opened, but the Nazis are thwarted by a young Professor Broom and a bunch of Uncle Sam’s finest boys in uniform. The portal is closed before the real baddies can catch the interstellar express to Scotland, but not before Hot Stuff, the cutest li’l devil you ever did see, gets through.

Another bad guy I should mention is Kroenen, ’cause, damn. I mean, this guy is quite possibly the single coolest masked baddie since the mother of all masked baddies, Darth “Don’t Call Me Ani” Vader. He’s the clockwork Nazi who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Actually, he takes an impaling and walks away from it. He deflects bullets with two wicked swords that he keeps hidden up his sleeves. And get this, he doesn’t even have to deflect those bullets! Seriously, they just bounce off him! But he deflects ’em anyway, because he’s just That. Bad. Ass.

So, the bad guys are defeated (for now) and Hellboy is adopted by Professor Broom. Jump forward sixty years. Hellboy is now Ron Perlman, Professor Broom is now John Hurt, and that damn Rasputin doesn’t know when to say when. He’s back (thanks to the remarkably well-preserved Ilsa), he’s stirring up all kinds of trouble, and it’s up to Hellboy and company to put a stop to it.

What follows is a smash-bang romp that only pauses for breath a few times before the end credits roll. There’s a satisfying amount of action mixed with a classic Beauty and the Beast love story that stops shy of being overly sappy, special effects that don’t (always) scream “look at me, I’m a special effect!”, and a liberal dose of laugh-out-loud Hellboy one-liners.

Unfortunately, there’s also a sticky bit with the story that doesn’t play out very smoothly. The biggest stumbling block for me: a strange clue that – in a logical leap worthy of Burt Ward’s Robin – takes our heroes to Moscow in an attempt to put an end to Rasputin’s shenanigans once and for all. In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Of course it is, but a trap of which the machinations are subtle and confounding.

Not surprisingly, right prevails. Laura was quite pleased that, despite the availability of Agent John Myers – who is quite the dashing fellow and a downright decent guy, to boot – Hellboy gets the girl in the end. Overall, I was very, very pleased with the movie. Despite the convolution of the story midway through, it remained a treat to watch, and I fully plan on seeing it in the theater again.

Afterthought: As I wrapped up my review of Hellboy, I realized that I had all-but completely neglected the movies based on DC superheroes in my earlier list. For the record, I thought that the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman movie was a complete riot. The first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton is in my top five favorite superhero movies of all time. Unfortunately, someone at Warner Brothers got it into their head that the villain in each movie had to be a bigger star than the guy playing Batman. That, in addition to various other insanities perpetrated on the productions, drove the franchise into a plunge that reached rock bottom with Batman and Robin. I’m hoping against hope that Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale can breath some much needed life and dignity back into this beloved character. Superman suffered a similar fate, and whether or not he can be revived remains to be seen. By today’s standards, the first movie in that series seems a bit on the hokey side, but Christopher Reeve played Clark Kent and his Kryptonian alter-ego perfectly, and that performance stands out against dated costumes and special effects.

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