HELLBOY(director/writer: Guillermo del Toro; screenwriter: based on the comic book by Mike Mignola; cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro; editor: Peter Amundson; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Hurt (Professor Bruttenholm), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (Agent John Myers), Jeffrey Tambor (Dr. Tom Manning), Karel Roden (Grigori Rasputin), Corey Johnson (Agent Clay), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien, as performer), David Hyde Pierce (Abe Sapien, as voice), Brian Caspe (Agent Lime), James Babson (Agent Moss), Ladislav Beran (Kroenen); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Lawrence Gordon/Lloyd Levin/Mike Richardson; Revolution Studios/Columbia Pictures; 2004)
“There’s lots of dazzle in this superhero comic book film.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Guillermo del Toro (“Blade II”/”Cronos”/”The Devil’s Backbone”) is the 39-year-old Mexican-born director and writer of Hellboy who shows great enthusiasm for the comic book he’s filming as he brings that spark to the project. The director gets the right comic book attitude of Mike Mignola’s 1994 created Dark Horse comic series about Hellboy onscreen, and the title character is played with magnificently magnetic verve and gruffness by Ron Perlman. The lovable freak with a taste for Baby Ruth candy bars will later on be called by his associates either HB or Big Red. He was rescued by American soldiers from Satan and the Nazis during World War II while in a heavily guarded occult secret lab in Scotland and was then given sanctuary by his new father, the kindly but oddball British paranormal Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt).
The Third Reich joined forces with the evil Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), who had not died as thought after serving the czar and lived to use his occult powers to unnaturally father the young demon for the Germans. The demon, who the American soldiers named Hellboy after the rescue, was to be used as the ultimate Nazi weapon of world destruction. The soldiers had to kill Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) at the 1944 site to complete the rescue, as Kroenen was a formidable secret weapon himself capable of doing great damage through his ability of fighting as an assassin with a pair of luminous retractable blades that keep popping out of his armor suit.
Hellboy is a red giant with distinct body markings and is fire-resistant, who chomps down on his cigar like a tough soldier in a Sam Fuller movie and files down the massive devil horns on his forehead to “fit in.” He has a wise guy’s speech patter that echoes a hipster’s sense of humor. He dwells in his vault-like basement hiding place at a top-secret federal research institute in Newark, New Jersey, called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, where he was raised by his Catholic father Professor Bruttenholm, the founder and head of the institute who has an arrangement with the FBI and its cynical and always snarling bureau head Dr. Tom Manning (Tambor) to work together in a secret alliance. Bruttenholm raised his son with empathy and a Christian yearning to do good work for humanity while his physical powers and paranormal talents are strengthened even further.
Hellboy is watched over at the institute by the efficient and cordial Agent Clay (Johnson) and is friendly with longtime resident Abe Sapian (Doug Jones as performer, David Hyde Pierce as voice), an aquatic humanoid discovered with the power of telepathy at the time of Lincoln’s assassination and so the given name of Abe. Hellboy is encouraged to remain inside the building and is taken outside only on missions to save the earth from supernatural monsters — something he’s good at destroying as there seems to be plenty of need for his services these days. If spotted outside, the FBI denies it’s him to the questioning media (sort of like the lies all the president administrations, from ever since, partake in when trying to cover their behinds or keeping out leaks). The playful Hellboy also leaves the premises because he’s in love with the touchy Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a former patient freak of his father’s who keeps breaking his heart and now chooses to live on her own since Bruttenholm has done all he can for her problem. Her nature is to create fire with her mind (she can create a blue-flame inferno around her).
The action heavy film picks up with the ageless Hellboy demon now some sixty years later under his adopted father’s guardianship, and the freaky lad has developed a strong sense of values from dad. But all’s not well with Bruttenholm, as his oncology doctors tell him he’s dying. Wishing there were someone else to look after his son when he’s gone, dad chooses an innocent looking and pure of heart recent graduate from the FBI Academy, John T. Myers (Rupert Evans), to do the care-taking honors. That leads to some amusing relationship problems between the tender-hearted demon who is jealous that the boy scout acting Myers might be stealing his fire-starting girlfriend. But there’s even a bigger problem that concerns Professor Bruttenholm, as the powerful reborn Rasputin returns more determined than ever with his minions to bring the Hellboy demon back to a secret mausoleum spot in Moscow of darkness so that evil may enter the portal and destroy the free world. It’s up to Hellboy to see if the love nurtured within him is enough to out-duel his evil nature and prevent his real father from ruling the world.
If you can somehow get past what a gobbledygook story it was (something about the Nazis and Rasputin combining forces to unleash the “Seven Gods of Chaos”), where nothing added up or even remotely made sense, then you can tune in on how the performances were cleverly handled in a fun way by the talented cast, the photographic use of a visually spectacular scheme of primary colors was eye pleasing, and the many kick-ass computer generated fight scenes though repetitive (the monster Sammael can’t die without replicating) were always entertaining. There’s lots of dazzle in this superhero comic book film, and it compares more than favorably with the better comic book film versions such as The Hulk, Superman and X-Men.
REVIEWED ON 4/5/2004 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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