**** (out of 5)
April 2, 2004
Ron Perlman as HELLBOY
Selma Blair as LIZ HERMAN
Jeffrey Tambor as DR. TOM MANNING
Karel Roden as GRIGORI RASPUTIN
Rupert Evans as JOHN MYERS
John Hurt as PROFESSOR BRUTTENHOLM
David Hyde Pierce as ABE SAPIEN
Studio: Revolution Studios
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
BY KEVIN CARR
In the past, whenever a comic book property has been made into a blockbuster, there’s a flood of imitation comic book films that try to cash in on the movie’s success. Usually those secondary film stink up the multiplex (or television airwaves) for several years. Back in 1989 when “Batman” hit it big, we were cursed with such crap as “Captain America,” “The Punisher” and “The Flash” television show.
When “X-Men” triumphed a few years ago, I was terrified that we would see a similar range of garbage spew from Hollywood. And while not all the comic book movies have been great – like last year’s less-than impressive “The Hulk” – there have been some excellent adaptations, like “Spider-Man.” And even the worst of the worst coming out now isn’t as bad as the run-of-the-mill comic book film from years ago. Even though I didn’t like “Daredevil,” I’d put it up against “Captain America” any day.
Maybe it’s a DC thing. This last influx of films comes from the Marvel and Dark Horse imprints. We’ll see if the new “Batman Begins” movie coming out in 2005 can revive the DC properties. In the mean time, I’m happy to see films like “Hellboy.” In fact, I think it’s Guillermo del Toro’s best film yet.
I’ve always found Guillermo del Toro to be an excellent director when it came to style and technique. His cinematography choices are some of the top in the industry, and the oppressive, dark flavor of his films make them very powerful. However, I’ve also found that most of del Toro’s films have script problems. “Mimic” was an awesome concept, but deteriorated into a silly bug hunt. And “Blade II”… well, “Blade II” was “Blade II,” if you catch my drift. Even “Cronos,” his groundbreaking Mexican film that put him on the Hollywood map, bogged down in parts.
While “Hellboy” ain’t great art, it’s script is probably the most solid of all the films del Toro has tackled. Not having read the original Dark Horse comic, I can’t speak on the authenticity angle. But as a fun action story, it worked.
During World War II, the Nazis resurrected the spirit of Rasputin (Karel Roden) to help them win their fight with the Allies. With Resputin’s help, they opened a portal to Hell to release a warrior who would destroy the world. Fortunately, the Allies soldiers were there to twart the attempt. The demon released was only a child, which the U.S. government adopted and raised as their own, giving him the nickname Hellboy. For the past 60 years, he’s been fighting with the good guys. However, now Rasputin has come back to fulfill Hellboy’s destiny.
What really makes “Hellboy” work is Ron Perlman in the title role. While his make-up make him look like a sunburned Ted Danson beefcake, Perlman’s attitude behind the character is perfect. He’s given a slate of snappy one-liners, which I normally find irritating, but they work when uttered by Hellboy.
This is because Perlman actually made me believe the lines. For so many years, we had to suffer through crummy one-liners from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. Where Schwarzenegger and Englund stumbled was they always delivered them with their tongues in their cheeks. But Perlman doesn’t give into this cheesy style. When Hellboy says, “I’m fireproof, and you’re not,” he’s not mugging to the audience for a laugh. This is just honestly something that Hellboy would say after 60 years of fighting supernatural bad guys.
There are some rough spots in the film, especially when Hellboy’s new handler (Rupert Evans) starts making moves on Liz (Selma Blair), but these scenes are often tempered Hellboy’s sarcastic commentary on the side. The action is visceral and powerful. The effects may be overdone with the CGI, but I actually prefer that to a poor mix of live-action models and computer effects. The Hellboy make-up is very realistic and doesn’t seem oppressive on Perlman.
And it doesn’t hurt to have Selma Blair as the love interest, either. I don’t know why the cast wasn’t promoted better. Like many guys around my age, Selma Blair has been a guilty pleasure – even the mousy versions from “Cruel Intentions” and “Legally Blonde.” She was a better reason to see “The Sweetest Thing” than Cameron Diaz ever was.
Although the studio’s marketing campaign was little too similar to “X-Men” for my tastes (I could have done without the opposing “Sent to Destroy”/“Here to Protect” banners in theaters this winter), this isn’t an “X-Men” rip-off.