“If there’s trouble, all us freaks have is each other.”
2004. Rated PG-13. Written and Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Based on the comic by Mike Mignola. Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Rubert Evans, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt, Karel Roden and the voice of David Hyde Pierce.
Before I saw a preview for the first movie, I had never heard of Hellboy, perhaps the most obscure comic book character to be given not just one, but now two big-budget action movies. I had no interest in seeing it, but it was on TV tonight, and I figured, what the hell, why not see if it might actually be as good as some people say and then go out and see the sequel. Well, let’s just say I won’t be rushing to the theaters this weekend to see Hellboy 2.
The movie opens with a scene explaining the origins of Hellboy (Perlman) — some crazy Nazi scientist teamed with Rasputin (Roden) — yes, that Rasputin — engage in some magic mumbo-jumbo bullshit and open up a portal to Hell, I guess, to get some demons to help destroy the Allies. The plot gets no less ridiculous from there, but it’s a comic book movie, so that’s fine, I suppose. Anyway, a team of American soldiers led by a young Professor Broom (the older version played by Hurt) disrupt the mission but not before a little cute infant demon sneaks through the portal. Rather than destroy it, Broom adopts it.
Flash to the present, where FBI newbie John Myers (Evans) is recruited for a secret division of the government, the BPRD, where he basically gets to act as Hellboy’s babysitter. Through Myers, we learn most of the history of Hellboy and the BPRD and meet the other members of the team, an aquatic human thing, Abe Sapien (voiced by Hyde Pierce) and a firestarter girl (Blair) who can’t control her powers. And of course, eventually, some weird creatures pop up and they have to fight them and save the world and all that.
Perlman is great and redeems an otherwise subpar film — it’s amazing that buried beneath that much makeup and prosthetics that Perlman can outact the shit out of everyone else in the movie. Blair and Evans are both blank slates, which totally kills the romance subplot. You feel for Hellboy and you can see how important Blair’s character is to him, but she’s not good enough to show us why. Nor is Evans effective as an audience proxy. Totally off-topic, but I feel like John Hurt has been in everything I’ve seen recently. Also, Jeffrey Tambor shows up to annoy the crap out of everyone playing the stereotypical head of the unit, who has to have a conflict with the loose-cannon detective, or demon, in this case.
Now, I guess I understand why some critics wet themselves over Del Toro’s vision, etc — and I never saw Pan’s Labyrinthso it’s unfair to judge it based on the trailer alone — but I find his visual style too cartoony for my tastes. The monsters and the creatures, I dunno, they looked too fake, rubbery and were not in the least bit frightening. I think it’s telling that the freakiest and most bad-ass villain was the Nazi assassin wearing a simple gas mask. And other than a really effective sequence in the middle of the movie, I was not impressed by the direction. The final action scene was a total waste.
Essentially, the movie is one awesome character surrounded by some lame supporting characters and one cool villain (not even the main one) surrounded by pretty lame ones. The visuals aren’t strong enough to carry a weak script with a large helping of really corny dialogue. I didn’t mind the old, “what makes a man a man” theme, but they didn’t really explore the idea of whether a demon can truly be good because he was loved. It was never really in doubt which side Hellboy is on.
Would I see the sequel? I’m not going to make a point of it. Most likely, I’ll catch it when it’s on FX a couple of years from now in the week before Hellboy 3 comes out.