Continuing the current trend for comic book to big screen adaptations, director Guillermo del Toro, gives us his favourite character Hellboy. The director, whose previous works include the Blade movies, has been very vocal about his love of the character and being a comic book connoisseur so anticipation from devoted followers of Hellboy were very high indeed. After all it’s just a short stumble from being the next Batman to the next Batman And Robin.
During World War II, the Nazis recruit the evil monk Rasputin (Karel Roden) to help win the war. Rasputin opens a dimensional portal into another world just as Allied forces interrupt. During the ensuing battle, the portal closes but not before someone, or rather something, manages to crawl though. This something is found by Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm, a paranormal expert with the Army, which turns out to be a small, brightly coloured red baby, with a stone hand – a baby whom Professor ‘Broom’ raises as his own son. The men in the army unit name the baby Hellboy.
Cut to sixty years later and Professor Broom (now played by John Hurt), runs the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence – an agency which ‘bumps’ back at the things that go bump in the night. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) who is now all grown-up, works at the Bureau with his loyal friend, a telepathic fish-man Abe Sapian (played Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde Pierce).
Into this strange agency arrives FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans), who has recently been hand-picked by Professor Broom to be the Hellboy’s latest caretaker. Unsurprisingly he’s totally not prepared to discover that his charge is a 7 foot demon with filled down horns that has a soft-spot for cigars, kittens and Baby Ruth bars.
Meanwhile, the recently reincarnated Rasputin manages to bring forth the Hound of Resurrection, the demon Sammael (Brian Steele). Before Myers knows what’s going on he’s tagging along with Hellboy racing across and under the city putting the beat down on Sammael. Hellboy has two weapons of choice – The Samaritan (a big arse gun) and The Right Hand of Doom (his big arsed stone fist).
While not beating down demons, Hellboy spends his time in unrequited hankering for Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) another paranormal who feels guilty because she starts fires whenever angry or emotionally excited.
It transpires that resurrecting the demon Sammael, was just a prelude to Rasputin’s master plan to release the huge Seven Gods of Chaos, which is a massive, destructive creature who remains trapped in the same dimension that Hellboy originally came from. Unfortunately the only way he can do this is with the dimensional key – the Right Hand of Doom.
Del Toro recently stated that Ron Perlman was the only actor he even considered for the role of Hellboy and he refused Universal studios suggestions of Vin Diesel or The Rock. After the film was picked up by Revolution studios, Del Toro got his choice and he was right on the money. Ron Perlman is superb as Hellboy – and he totally captures the look of the comic with his ground down horns and his raven hair tied into a Sumo wrestlers knot. Even his growling voice suits the character of Hellboy and is ideal for his trademark quips such as “Aww Crap!”. Perlman can make Hellboy seem tough and indestructible one minute and weak and vulnerable the next. Even though he is a tough guy, Hellboy enjoys his cigars, beer and being a regular guy – these are the moments when Perlman really shines (the scene when he’s receiving love advice from a kid is just great and really sum the performance up).
The rest of the cast are okay with the ever dependable John Hurt standing out from the crowd. Everyone else is unfortunately completely shadowed by Perlman. The villains, especially Rasputins’ female companion Ilsa (played by Bridget Hodson) is too far over the top to be taken seriously and Karl Roden plays the same accented rent-a-villain roles he’s played before in 15 Minutes and Bulletproof Monk.
The action in the film is top notch and although CGI heavy at times the seamless integration between real-life is good for the most part. The success of the film relies on the fact that the characters are likeable and hold the scenes together. They have much more depth (well the leads do) than normal comic book fair. The focus of romance works very well within the confines of the film and doesn’t seem forced at all.
The weaker aspects of the film are the villains – for although Rasputin is menacing earlier on, he soon loses his air of mystery and his ninja-blade wielding side-kick Kroenen (Ladislay Beran) takes over as the more menacing, but don’t let that detract from what is essentially a top class comic book film.
Del Toro and Ron Perlman have definitely managed to make a visually stunning film and spot on performance between them. Hellboy is a lot of fun and delivers on all levels which should appeal to the fans of the comic book and general audiences too. With a sequel already planned, here’s hoping for a new franchise.
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