Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
The latest feature film adaptation based on a comic book (in this
case, the cult Dark Horse series created by Mike Mignola), "Hellboy"
is a well-paced diversion as it sets up the mythos of its title demonic
hero and sidekicks in hopes of doing well enough finan cially for
further adventures and more character development. In the annals of
comic book movies, this one places steadfastly beside 2000's "X-Men"
and 2003's "X2" as a respectable sci-fi/action film, good for a few
thrills and chills but not going far enough in its imagination to be a veritable standout.
The film opens in October 1944 Scotland, as the Nazi's plan to open
a portal for evil supernatural beings to come to Hitler's aid is thwarted
by a group of American soldiers. Before the portal closes, however,
one such demon escapes—a horned, red-skinned newborn, complete with
a tail and stoned arm. He is adopted by Professor Bruttenholm (John
Hurt) and taken back to America, where he grows to become Hellboy
(Ron Perlman), an agent for the FBI Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense.
Along with human watcher John Myers (Rupert Evans) , an aquatic creature
known as Abe (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce), and, later,
the fire-creating Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Hellboy's mission is
to stop the supernatural evils unleashed upon the U.S. When the maniacal
Rasputin is resurrected, intent on releasing upon the world a swarm
of tentacled creatures who reproduce each time they are killed, Hellboy
is faced with his most dangerous and difficult assignment yet. His
two weaknesses: the unrequited love he has for Liz and his reliance
on elderly father Bruttenholm, who is nearing the end of his life.
Directed with gothic style and the wink of an eye by Guillermo Del
Toro (2002's "Blade II"), "Hellboy" will likely satisfy any fan of
the genre. It features a number of high-octane, special effects-oriented
battle sequences between Hellboy and the slimy villains, booby-trapped
passageways and rooms that remind of "The Goonies" and "Indiana Jones,"
a nd a laid-back comedic side. While the humor threatens to get a
little too jokey at times, and Hellboy's catchphrase, "Oh, crap,"
is decidedly cornball, it does little to distract from its more serious themes.
At heart, "Hellboy" is a love story between Hellboy and Liz Sherman,
who keeps herself at arm's length because of her reluctance to use
her special power. Liz longs to be a normal person, and her discomfort
in mingling with Hellboy puts a road block in his plans to tell her
how he feels toward her. In a long overdue lead role, Ron Perlman
(2002's "Star Trek: Nemesis") commands every moment he is onscreen,
which is nearly constant. With muscles, strength, and a bad-ass attitude,
Perlman is a force to be reckoned with. He goes one step further,
however, in unveiling a more vulnerable side who fears he won't be
able to go on without his father or Liz. The somewhat undernourished
romance works solely b ecause of Perlman's dedication—he makes us
believe he really does love Liz, and would do anything for her.
The other performances serve their purpose without getting in the
way of the main attraction that is Hellboy. Selma Blair (2003's "A
Guy Thing") underplays Liz Sherman, which works half the time since
her character is unsure of her place in the world, but she doesn't
impress enough to make note of it. As John Myers, newcomer Rupert
Evans shows promise in a part that could very well be expanded upon
in further installments. Doug Jones, along with the voice work of
David Hyde Pierce, makes a memorable impression as the scholarly,
aquatic Abe. And Karel Roden (2001's "15 Minutes"), as the villainous
Rasputin, doesn't have enough screen time to be anything but thoroughly disposable.
Because the "Hellboy" comic is not as well-know n as "X-Men," the
challenge posed to director Guillermo Del Toro was in introducing
the characters and setting up the story well enough that it would
be accessible to wide-ranging audiences. While there are a few fuzzy
details and plot holes, Del Toro has done a solid job. Hellboy is
a lovable hero because of nothing more than being a tough guy with
a heart, and this sentiment is a testament to Ron Perlman's breakthrough
work. Meanwhile, the visual effects range from natural and seamless
(as in the tentacle baddies and underwater sequences) to glaring bad
(Liz's blue-hued fire reproduction). With all pro's and con's tallied,
"Hellboy" stands as a durable popcorn entertainment with definite
potential to become a franchise. Although it may only be the first
week of April, "Hellboy" has started off the summer movie season with welcome promise.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman