Laura Clifford Robin CliffordProfessor Broom (Kevin Trainor) of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, formed by President Roosevelt to fight the occult wars begun by the Nazis, leads cynical Allied troops through the Scottish countryside. When they crest a hill, a startling sight meets their eyes - amidst ancient ruins, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden, "15 Minutes") is opening a portal to unleash the seven gods of chaos to begin Armageddon. Broom and the Americans manage to avert doom, but the portal remained open long enough to deliver one of Hades denizens, one which will be brought up by Broom as his son, "Hellboy."
Cowriter (with Peter Briggs)/director Guillermo del Toro ("Blade II," "The Devil's Backbone") turns Mike Mignola's Dark Horse comic into a promising potential franchise. Ron Perlman's ("Blade II") devilishly perfect performance is supported by a beautifully cast Bureau family. While "Hellboy's" characters may be reminiscent of X-Men, they're a lot more fun. Only a weak villain mars this new comic book entry.
After the film's prologue, the title sequence economically brings us to the present, updating us with newspaper headlines and TV news reports about a legendary devil figure whose existence is debunked by the FBI. We then meet Broom's (now played by John Hurt, "Owning Mahowny") gang through the eyes of newcomer Agent John Myer (Rupert Evans) who has been recruited to care for Hellboy. Myer is sent to Section 51 and enters a chamber that looks preserved from the 1940's, all except for the wall enclosing a tank which houses Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, "Mimic," voice of David Hyde Pierce, "Down with Love"), a Mer-man who demands that the pages of multiple books be turned. Abe (more casually referred to as Blue, just as Hellboy is frequently called Red), Broom explains to his flustered recruit, was discovered in the 1860s and is a highly intelligent psychic. After offering 'There are things that go bump in the night. We bump back,' Broom hands John two Baby Ruths and gives him over to Agent Clay (John William Johnson) to introduce him to his charge. 'They're not talking,' explains Clay about the Professor and his adopted son before revealing that the legendary red creature is, in fact, not only real, but exceedingly fond of cats (and chocolate bars).
Hellboy is like a rebellious teenager who flaunts the FBI's need to keep him under wraps by escaping to visit Liz Sherman (Selma Blair, "The Sweetest Thing"), a troubled pyrokinetic who left the BPRD to try and reenter society. The two have a strong attachment, although Myer creates a love triangle by appealing to Liz's need for normality.
In addition to the parental and romantic love situations, the action begins when Rasputin, along with his Nazi lover Ilsa (Bridget Hodson - a reference to that 'She-Wolf of the SS' perhaps?), and Hitler's assassin Kroenen (Ladislav Beran, "Blade II"), an unstoppable freak in a gas mask, unleashes Sammael (Brian Steele, "Mimic"), the Hound of Resurrection, in a New York City museum. Hellboy is sent to slay the beast, but every time Sammael is killed, two more are spawned. A episode with Liz that results in the destruction of her hospital brings her back onto the defense team.
Del Toro and Briggs' adaptation maintains a high level of humor without undermining the heavier emotions of young love, parental love and the freedom to do good vs. evil. Their introduction of Myer was a smart move not only as an obstacle for Hellboy's yearning for Liz but as a reflection of the younger Broom. Broom is the soft-hearted parental figure while Jeffrey Tambor's ("Never Again") is the disciplinarian. The scene where Manning and Hellboy connect over the proper way to light a cigar is one of the film's best, a nice stepping stone into Hellboy's adulthood and Tambor's opportunity to develop Manning's character as he assumes a mantle. We're given too little interaction between Hellboy and Abe, whose jokey camaraderie should be given more weight in the sequel (perhaps to make up for the loss of a charismatic FBI agent who enjoys an equally entertaining relationship to the big red one). If only Del Toro had spent more time developing his bad guys. Kroenen is a terrific creation (Broom's psychoanalysis of him is devilishly creepy), but Rasputin is bland and Ilsa just window dressing.
Perlman is the ideal Hellboy, a deadpan pragmatist who is also capable of showing great tenderness from beneath pounds of makeup prosthetics. Selma Blair has never been better than she is here - she's lovely and soulful, like a cross between X-Men's Rogue and Storm with the romantic problems of Jean Grey. Rupert Evans makes a splash in his debut, creating a character conflicted by his feelings for two people he cares for. Hurt has been missing from the big screen for too long and one wishes he and Johnson were guaranteed roles in the continuation.
Karel Roden, interesting in the so-so "15 Minutes," simply doesn't look like Rasputin, nor does he interest us in the character as anything but an obstacle for the BPRD. Child actor Rory Copus makes much more of an impression in one scene spent observing Liz with Hellboy from a rooftop perch.
Production designer Stephen Scott ("Highlander: End Game") and director of photography Guillermo Navarro ("The Devil's Backbone") create a dark, dreary world of cool colors, ensuring Hellboy's red pops. The film's opening is like a rainy version of Raider's ending. Rasputin's tomb is an elaborate, gothic design featuring a huge mechanical clockwork device that harkens back to Cronos. Stunts and visual effects, mostly achieved live, are outstanding. Only once does a character's movements seem unnatural, when Hellboy appears to be supported as he races across a disintegrating bridge. Perlman's makeup and mechanically operated appendages (his tail and his giant hand) look outstanding on camera (and one has to admire the actor for incorporating them into his performance).
"Hellboy" is a hell of a good time. Kudos to a film and technical team that can create a reanimated corpse as a quipster tipster.
On an island off the coast of Scotland, in 1944, a group of American soldiers, accompanied by young Brit scientist Dr. Bruttenholm (Jim Howick), are investigating strange doings by an elite group of Nazis. The Germans are losing the war and desperate times call for desperate measures. The group’s leader, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Rodel) – yes, that Rasputin – is combining Nazi scientific know how with black magic to open a portal to Hell and release the Apocalypse upon the earth. But, they are thwarted by the plucky scientist and Yank soldiers and the creature they rescue from the evil Nazis will become the fighter of truth and justice known as “Hellboy.”
Helmer Guillermo Del Toro has had quite the eclectic career in the horror movie business with his string of scare flicks such as “Cronos,” “Mimic,” “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Blade 2.” He continues along this path with his adaptation (with Peter Briggs) of Mike Mignola’s comic book series about the spawn from Hell who, under the guidance and education of Dr. Bruttenholm (John Hurt), serves good rather than evil.
Dr. Bruttenholm saved the baby demon with the huge right arm of stone from the clutches of Rasputin and his mechanical minion, the half man/half machine Karl Rupert Kroenen (Santiago Segura). Now, 60 years later, Bruttenholm’s health is failing and the forces of evil are on the march once again, led by the reincarnated Rasputin, back from the “other side” and more evilly powerful than ever. This dark lord has plans to bring the Apocalypse upon the Earth and he wants to recruit Hellboy (Ron Perlman) into service to accomplish this, believing you can take the demon out of evil but not evil out of the demon.
But, Hellboy has earthbound loyalties to his adopted father, Dr. Bruttenholm, a merman named Abe Sapien (performed by Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde Pierce), and a pretty, troubled pyro-kinetic, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). This stalwart team is aided by the FBI, led by Special Agent Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) who has grown tired of Hellboy’s eccentricities and violence. But, Rasputin has unleashed the indestructible hellhound upon the earth and the challenge facing our hero and his team of good guys may be insurmountable.
Young FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) is assigned to Dr. Bruttenholm’s BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) where he is given over to the care and feeding of the bureau’s star border – Hellboy – but not before he meets Abe Sapien, the aquatic merman with psychic powers. His introduction to the frightening vision from Hell is temper by the fact that the giant, destructive demon is also a cat lover. This little team takes on the dangerous, near impossible task of taking on Rasputin and his evil throng and stopping their dastardly plan for world domination.
“Hellboy” is a hit and miss proposition. It positions itself as the first entry into a film franchise of the titular comic book superhero and Ron Perlman is just right for the role. The actor has proven his ability to don lots of makeup – see him in the 1987-89 TV series “Beauty and the Beast” – and kick butt. Here, as Hellboy, he is huge, red and has the stumps of his devilish horns that he files down so he’ll “fit in.” Perlman gives a strong, snappy and physical performance as the demon-for-good takes up the mantle against evil. He is pitted against Rasputin’s hellhound but does not know that by killing the creature it returns – doubled. Every time he kills another of these ugly brutes he is unknowingly increasing their numbers and must find a way to eliminate them all.
The supporting characters around Hellboy is a collection of X-Men-like creatures, such as Abe and fire-starter Liz, and the more normal types like Myers, the good doctor and special agent Clay (Corey Johnson). This band of good guys must face off against Rasputin (performed with little depth by Karel Rodel), his cyborg sidekick Kroenen and the wicked Nazi bimbo Ilsa (Biddy Hodson). There is lots of CG action as Hellboy fights to save the world from evil.
The problem I have with “Hellboy” stems from its derivative nature. There are elements of “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” “Alien,” “Ghostbusters,” “Star Wars” and other films from past years that detract from any originality the source material may have supplied. The character of Hellboy is worth the price of admission and the non-supernatural players like Myers and Clay help keep things grounded. Gill-man Abe also lends a nice friendship to the equation as he honestly cares for his hulking red friend. Selma Blair provides the quasi love interest and, when Myers shows interest in the pretty fire bug, a jealous flare in Hellboy. The bad guy side of things is problematic with Rodel giving none to much to the underdeveloped Rasputin – the filmmakers would have been wiser to keep the look of the wild-haired/wild-eyed Russian shaman instead of the Euro-trash look they use. Also, the Darth Vader-like Kroenen steals the show from his boss and is the more compelling bad guy. Rasputin’s chick, Ilsa, is in the picture because of…? It beats the heck out of me.
Guillermo Del Toro does a decent, though not great, job in marshalling the material, cast and crew into a mostly entertaining, overly long sci-fi, monster movie action flick that is a showcase for its title character. Ron Perlman is up for the job, too, and will help with his onscreen presence. The film smacks of first in franchise and, with a better story and more wicked bad guys, will probably end up with a sequel or two. This one could have been tightened up to make a better movie. I give it a B-.
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