Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel
Roden, Corey Johnson, David Hyde Pierce, Doug Jones, Biddy Hodson
2004, 132 Minutes, Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
is what you’d get after playing video games like Return to Castle
Wolfenstein and Doom 3-D for twenty hours solid and declaring
“well, why the *%&! shouldn’t there be a movie like this?” I knew I was in
for a treat when, within the first few minutes, the narrator had announced
that he was “President Roosevelt’s paranormal advisor” and that “the Nazis
were combining science and black magic.” If this movie were any more
over-the-top, we might have another Kill Bill on our hands.
Let’s quickly check off just some of the things you’re likely to encounter
in the world of Hellboy. We got the mad monk Rasputin, resurrected
and on the payroll of the Third Reich. We got two reanimated corpses, one
wisecracking and the other adept at kung-fu. We got a secret government
agency that fights the supernatural. We got magic bullets, straight from the
Vatican. We got four-eyed hell hounds that clone themselves every time you
kill one. We visit an endless parade of underground laboratories, Gothic
cemeteries, abandoned subway stations, and spooky catacombs. We get a devil
filing down his horns with a power sander.
We get a mad scientist with the requisite tiny glasses and wild white hair.
We meet a surgery addict who has no eyelids. We get to see the moon turned
into a portal to Hades. We have books “not officially condoned by the
Church,” that have instructions on how to alternately raise the dead or kill
the undead. You know, whichever. We enter a world where a job as “night
watchman” or “security guard” is practically a death sentence. We hear so
many Eastern European accents but nary a word in any language besides
English. If all this sounds stupid, you’re probably right. But if you’re
fighting off a smirk, then Hellboy is a movie for you.
"You'd think that a life blasting monsters with a revolver the
size of Dirk's Diggler would be enough for any man!"
Hellboy (actor Ron Perlman beneath a lot of prosthetics), a demon brought
into the world of the living when he was just a baby and lured to the side
of goodness by two Baby Ruths and a warm towel. Our world is a little colder
than what he’s used to. Now he’s all grown up, has broken off his horns, and
fights the forces of evil—including the aforementioned Russian monk (Karel
Roden), hell hounds, and walking dead—on behalf of the U.S. government.
Hellboy—or HB, as his friends call him—is joined by his adopted father (John
Hurt, in an apparently rare moment of sobriety) and a slippery fish guy
(Doug Jones, voiced by Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce) who reads books,
minds, and what’s just happened to inanimate objects.
You would think a life blasting monsters with a revolver the size of Dirk’s
Diggler would be enough for any man, but Hellboy is starting to get cabin
fever from being cooped up in the underground laboratory all the time. And
he’s also having personal problems; what with his special lady’s (Selma
Blair) decision to trade the crime-fighting lifestyle for a quiet room at
the local sanatorium. She can shoot flames out of her hands. We’re
introduced to all this by a young FBI agent (Rupert Evans), whose basic
personality is as average as possible.
Most of the movie’s humor comes from the characters, and the movie itself,
being at one moment in total awe of the supernatural, and in the next being
completely accustomed to it (the others agents casually refer to Hellboy as
“Red” and the fish guy as “Blue”). With that approach, Perlman’s HB is
quickly able to become the sympathetic centre of the movie. The greatest
accomplishment of all the makeup and trickery used to make him blood red,
horned, fanged, and as a big as a refrigerator with arms and a tail, is that
none of it smothers his personality. Despite all the artifice, we are still
able to read his expressions and body language.
has made a career being at home and believable amidst special effects and
beneath tons of make-up. He was the Beast on TV’s Beauty and the Beast,
he played the strongman One in City of Lost Children,
was a heavy in the second Blade film, and blasted extra-terrestrials
and cracked wise in Alien Resurrection. He plays
Hellboy as a jock who’s all bluster and angry loner on top, but an
inarticulate cat-loving softy underneath. He says “crap” a lot and has a dry
wit whose intermittent success may demonstrate that Hellboy’s tough guy act
is only skin deep.
As superpowers go, he’s comparable to The Tick in that he’s really
big, really strong, and occasionally not all that bright. The image of the
demon with the broken horns is an effective one; we can still choose the
path of righteousness, regardless of our flawed natures. The other important
life lessons we learn from Hellboy are that Satan lives in outer
space and Nazis are filled with sand.
Aside from the comic books by Mike Mignola upon which it is based, the
movie’s chief architect is director and screenwriter Guillermo Del Toro, who
with Hellboy and Blade II seems to specialize in movies that
are enormously preposterous and enormously entertaining. He has given the
movie a glossy, blue-tinted look, but instead of the Hellboy world
being all technological and up-to-date, many of the major set pieces have
the quaint look of clockwork—a Big Ben world of massive, reluctant gears and
rusty chains. Del Toro has been blessed with a comic book that not many
people read; the subject matter may be comparable to The
X-Men but there aren’t a jillion whiny fans telling him what to do, so
he has greater freedom in making a compact, self-contained story.
all the splattery goo, Hellboy sheds very little human blood,
bringing in a PG13 instead of the R rating of Blade II. But Del Toro
hasn’t cooled his cackling delight for the macabre. It’s no surprise that we
can’t tear our eyes off the guy with no eyelids, but what might catch you
off-guard is how comical he looks when he’s sleeping or when he begins to
glance around suspiciously. And the rotting corpse that Hellboy resurrects
so he can get directions is at first pretty nasty, but a few minutes later
we find ourselves snickering at the way he’s looking around over Hellboy’s
Before seeing Hellboy, I was all set to use it as an example of
what’s wrong with the movies today. There is a whole universe of stories
that can be told, with untapped subjects and untouched approaches. But most
movies have shrunk their scope to the very narrow confines of the
effects-driven adventure for 14-year-olds. If all you know about movies is
what you learn at the neighborhood Cinemark, wouldn’t you be stunned to
discover that movies can actually be made about quiet things or ideas that
Sure, Hellboy is guilty as charged, but it’s filled with such
giddiness, exuberance, wit, and comic book “wow!” that I think I’ll wait for
the next duh-duh ka-boom movie to pontificate. Maybe the next
X-Men flick . . .
The Friday &
Saturday Night Critic
Sure, it’s overhyped, but Hellboy is still worth seeing for its comic book
visual style. However, it could have benefited with a longer running time to
flesh out plot points and characterization as the movie careens from one
action set piece to the next. Maybe the longer director’s cut to be released
on DVD later this year will rectify this particular failing.
— James O'Ehley