Hellboy
Starring:
Ron Pearlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, David Hyde Pierce, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden
Directed By :
Guillermo Del Toro
Grade
B+

Synopsis: In the closing days of World War II, the Nazis became increasingly desperate to find a weapon that would turn the tide of the war. Hitler enlisted brilliant and troubled men to aid his cause by any means necessary. One such man had a plan to merge science and mysticism to open a gate to an ultimate power. Thankfully, the Allies have their own experts aiding them and are on the alert for such activities. They burst upon this plan and seemingly foil it, but not before a demon has been summoned forth from this gate…a little baby boy demon. The military would've destroyed him, but their scientists see he means no harm and they save him and raise him as a soldier for their side. Dubbed 'hellboy', he still fights for the agency these scientists helped to create, and still no one is the wiser to what his final purpose may be.

Evaluation: Hellboy is a comic character created by Mike Mignola, and appearing in numerous short stories over the past decade. Del Toro is a big fan of the comics, and has taken great care in adapting the story. The movie is principally adapted from the early 'Seed of Destruction' mini-series, but also incorporates elements from other early Hellboy works, most notably the short story 'The Corpse'. Really, though, the movie is a creature all its own, as is often the case in an adaptation, and as well it should be in this case in particular. Hellboy doesn't have one major saga to draw from to adapt to the screen really, so bringing this character to a movie theater is a particular challenge in that it has to adapt a bit of a different flavor. The book has never really drawn me in for the stories or the art. But it does achieve a certain style by using minimalist elements incorporated with myths, folklore, and superstitions to create a sort of fantastic reality featuring Hellboy as a rock-em sock-em hardboiled detective employed by a federal ghostbuster agency. It's very distinct, so that's about the best I can break it down for you. The film is very loyal to the spirit of the books, but has an altogether different flavor to it. While still creating a quirky, yet believable world for these characters to populate, the film's presentation is more of a dark action movie than anything. And that's fine for Hellboy. In fact, many of his stories emphasize action over plot. And let's face it, Del Toro's track record is with Mimic, Blade 2, etc. His forte is action/horror, not Shakespeare.

Aside from the film having a bit of a different feel to it than the comics, some of the characters are handled a bit differently. This, too, is fine, as character development isn't really a great strength of the comics; interactions are kept minimal between the main characters. For instance, a few lines here and there may hint at romantic feelings between Hellboy and Liz Sherman, but certainly no romance is present such as in the film. There are also a great many interesting characters employed by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development, and only a few made it into the film, as it is principally supposed to focus on Hellboy. There is however, a new character introduced in the form of rookie agent John Myers (Evans). Initially, this character serves as the audience's introduction into the world of the B.P.R.D., but the script then divorces from this convention to employ him as a three-dimensional character in his own right, serving as a point in a possible romantic triangle, as Hellboy's new 'handler', and in many other roles. I very much like the way the film handled this character; he never slipped into a cliché for very long.

Aside from the adaptation angle of the script, the film's story isn't jaw-dropping. The bad guys from the beginning come back to finish their evil plans, and they play the good guys for fools and rack up a vicious body count while the B.P.R.D. tries to figure out what's going on. A good deal of time is spent on character interaction, especially on selling the romance. This slows down an action movie a lot, and lengthens it, which some people may gripe about. Well, this is no simple action movie. The romance has to be believable for the ending to work, and it was. And the character interaction came together nicely in the end, setting up perfectly for a sequel, which is essential to do in a comic movie, since the goal is to continue the story and characters as they continue in the comics. There are a few points which seem to follow typical Hollywood movie logic, but all this is forgivable in the interest of not bogging down the plot further explain small details just for the sake of internal consistency. (What the hell is a big pendulum doing in the middle of an underground lair? Who knows? It serves its purpose for the film, though. It's weak, but forgivable.)

The action isn't generally of the martial arts variety, leaning more towards slugfests and shootouts. The production design is great, Hellboy of course, looks great. The CG in the film is done very well, and all in all, all the creatures, characters, monsters, and effects are sold very well in the film. You don't spend much time thinking about them, (other than "Damn that was cool!"), which is how it should be. The acting is actually pretty good. Pearlman IS Hellboy. Blair adds depth to Liz Sherman that was only hinted at in the comics. Abe Sapien is fantastic as moved by Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde Pierce. The combination of his movements and vocal foibles really made for a memorable character that brought the whole film up a notch for me. Roden, as the villain Rasputin, is appropriately dark and threatening, but not so great I'd want him back for a sequel. In fact, the bait and switch boss battle employed by so many role-playing video games is used here and it kind of deflates the ending of the film. Without giving anything away, let's just say that it seems as if most everything important has been resolved, and then Hellboy has to duke it out with the big bad, which doesn't really take long. All in all, the culmination of the film feels almost like an afterthought. A small quibble though, as overall the film is highly enjoyable.

Who Will This Appeal To?: Fans and non-fans of the book have reason to rejoice, especially since Pearlman has committed to a sequel. Not the average action movie, but it works on a level all its own. Unless your opposed to anything but high drama, give it a shot.

Final Verdict: Del Toro's directing seems to congeal a fragmented universe into a very convincing film. I'd be interested to see which characters and stories they adapt for the sequel, and to see if a different director can lend the film a more creepy investigative ambiance rather than a mystic slugfest. Still, this film is a great adaptation of the comic. I was never drawn to the comic, so in my opinion this is actually a great improvement, because it makes the material accessible to a wider audience. A good film, and a great comic book movie.

Details, details…: Both Hitler and Rasputin have long been rumored to have ties to occult mysticism in real life, and both are the villains in numerous occult films, books, and anime from Anastasia to The Legend of the Overfiend. Here now you have the two of them together in one movie!

- - Jeff Light

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