Hellboy (2004)

From the Dark Side to Our Side

The Hellboy comic series has always been a personal favourite of mine, so initially, after learning that the Mike Mignola comics were going to be translated into film, fans around the globe, including myself, were eagerly bursting with excitement but slightly apprehensive as the series itself is rather difficult to translate to celluloid. Our nerves were somewhat eased after discovering that Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), who after the massive success of Blade II (2002), chose to helm the picture as it was a dream project of his but one he could never secure a budget or studio approval for. Fans were also delighted when veteran actor Ron Perlman, Son’s of Anarchy (2008), was cast as the title character Hellboy, a role he was born to play, even after studios were questioning his ‘star power’ as they wanted a more secure name to play the lead.

The majority of the film is constructed around the Seed of Destruction comic storyline, while the rest is taken from the Right Hand of Doom and Box Full of Evil short stories. The movie also contains little homages to other tales such as The Corpse and personal favourite, Pancakes. The film opens in 1944, where U.S. Soldiers are battling it out with the Nazi’s towards the end of World War II. Desperate to win the war, the Nazi’s are forced to acquire supernatural powers in order to open a portal summoning seven giant creatures that are supposedly reputed to initiate an apocalypse on humanity. Nazi plans are foiled when U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence officer Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and the troops stop the insane Nazi leader Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) from unleashing hell-on-earth. However the U.S. troops later discover a strange infant, part devil and part man, baring a large stone right hand, who somehow made it through the portal midst the chaos. Unsure what to do with the infant, Trevor takes him under his wing, there the creature develops empathy and a desire to do good opposed to evil which lies within his veins.

Evil never looked so good, Ron Perlman as Hellboy!
Evil never looked so good, Ron Perlman as Hellboy!

We later fast forward to the late 20th century and the creature, now known as Hellboy, is working in conjunction with the U.S. Government to help battle monsters and the paranormal. As part of an elite secret defence team, Hellboy is joined by misfits Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a beautiful young woman who can create fire with her mind and Abe Sapian, an aquatic humanoid with the power of telepathy, and together they must face their biggest challenge yet as the powerful Rasputin returns from the grave, determined to use Hellboy in a scheme to unleash dark forces that will enable evil to finally rule the world.

With a witty, tight and very entertaining screenplay, screenwriter and director Guillermo del Toro remains faithful to of Mike Mignola’s work throughout the picture, while introducing newcomers to Mignola’s fantastical world, del Toro also masterfully avoids the ‘typical’ superhero origin story, (not that Hellboy is much of a superhero, he’s really just a smartass with a gun, who comes from Hell), as the bulk of the back-story happens quickly in a fantastic pre-credit scene. Del Toro’s impressive cinematography aids Mignola’s vision with striking imagery paying homage to artwork from the comics, complete with tentacle-clad creatures and uniquely fascinating beasts; interestingly enough, much of the demonology in this film is inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos developed by H.P. Lovecraft, a horror writer from the 1930s, the quote at the beginning of the film is also from the H.P. Lovecraft mythos called De Vermis Mysteriis. Rick Barker’s make-up and prosthetic work on this project truly shines, as the creature effects are first rate all the way, both CGI effects, miniatures and prosthetics are particularly well done given the film’s relatively modest budget.

Ron Perlman’s excellent performance as Hellboy is what truly holds the movie together, as he plays the creature with real humanity, heart and a scathing wit, portraying the anti-hero as a person rather than a being, ‘How am I ever going to get a girl when I drive around in a garbage truck?’ he sarcastically states. Doug Jones, Legion (2010), who is relatively used to performing under copious amounts of make-up, portrays the body of Abe Sapian, while David Hyde Pierce, TV Show Frasier (1993), gives the creature a fitting voice, Pierce however refused a credit in the film as he felt that Abe was entirely Doug’s creation and did not wish to detract from his performance. Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions (1999), is involving as Liz Sherman, a complicated oddball, her performance is rather exposed and vulnerable, and one could easily understand how Hellboy grows attached to her. Rupert Evans, Agora (2009), feels a tad misplaced as Hellboy’s ‘babysitter’ John Myers, but gives a credible performance amongst the other freaks on show. It’s also worth mentioning that although Karl Ruprecht Kroenen played by Ladislay Beran, is terrific as the freakishly, self-mutilated assassin; the character is somewhat under utilized throughout the film as his screen presence is menacing enough to fuel an entire picture. Funnily enough, director Guillermo del Toro put his acting cap on too for Hellboy by voicing several characters in the film such as the baby Hellboy, Sammael, Ivan the corpse, the train driver and Kroenen.

This guy might need one-hell of a diaper change!
This guy might need one-hell of a diaper change!

Hellboy marks long time collaborators Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman’s third film together, originally paring up for del Toro’s directorial feature Cronos back in 1993, the pair complement one another well, Perlman states ‘it seems as though we are like brothers. We seem to be trying to make the same statement in the world,’ this is evident within Hellboy as the actor and director seem comfortable and confident in the territory they cover.

Hellboy can be a little silly at times and too fantastical for casual movie goers but the film works best if viewers simply throw current logic out the window and just immerse themselves in the bizarre world created by Mignola and del Toro. While its ending might be a tad abrupt, not everything is fully explained, Hellboy is a hell-of-a-treat for most comic book fans, del Toro fans and those who enjoy outlandish fantasy; it’s bold, unique and a marvel to watch!

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Hellboy is released through Sony Pictures Australia