Hey, I like a good superhero story and I have an affinity for movies with the word “hell” in the title, but this popcorn flick is about as memorable as the popcorn I got at the theater, which is to say that it was overpriced and not at all filling.
The film starts in the final stages of World War II when a scientist directs a team of American soldiers to a secret Nazi hideout where the Germans are summoning the forces of evil to turn the tables on the war. Evil baldy Grigori Rasputin (Karel Rodin) opens the gates to the “other side”, but is stopped short by young Professor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) and the American troops. However, an infant demon makes it through to our world. Good thing our young scientist and his military friends defy logic and raise the lobster boy as a secret weapon. Flash forward to the present where old Bruttenholm (John Hurt) commands a team of paranormal operatives – an oversized yet emotionally adolescent Hellboy, a brilliant fish-like man (David Hyde Pierce) and a sensitive young firestarter (Selma Blair) – all charged with once again stopping the evil Rasputin from opening the paranormal floodgates.
I’ll admit I had foolishly high expectations for this film. Ron Perlman is a fantastic actor who’s impressed us in Spanish (Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos), French (City of Lost Children) and various English-speaking films and tv shows (anyone remember Beauty and the Beast?). John Hurt is a strong actor with a great movie voice and Selma Blair sure is easy to watch. And Karel Rodin was excellent in the DeNiro flop 15 Minutes. Superhero films have been hit or miss lately, with X2: X-Men United being a hit and The Hulk being an obvious miss. So Hellboy could have gone either way. It went the way of dumb.
Translating a comic book to a film can be tricky business. The film must capture the fantastical unlikely circumstances of a comic book story, but it must also add realistic elements as part of screenplay structure to make the film palatable to a viewing audience. This is where Hellboy fails the most. Its premise is so off-the-wall and no efforts are made to make it seem plausible. So the results are a lot of misplaced, unintentional laughter from the audience.
Hellboy isn’t a total failure. Perlman has to sserve up some ridiculous dialogue but does it convincingly. And the character has a memorable look. The special effects are pretty much up to par. The most impressive sequence involves Hellboy stopping an SUV with his fist. Rasputin is more annoying than intimidating, but his undead henchman is quite memorable with a creepy mask covering his lack of lips and eyelids and his brilliantly choreographed swordplay making for some very exciting moments.
Some interesting attempts are made to create Hellboy as an urban myth, but something that the government really knows about. Jeffrey Tambor represents the obtuse government agency to some comic results. Young Rupert Evans is likeable but forgettable as the unfortunate new assistant to Hellboy.
Hellboy is certainly not helped by an absurd romance between the demon and the pretty young firestarter. It starts out sort of cute – the idea that this giant red freak needs female affection. But the moment it’s suggested that this huge bulking jackhammer would have a physical relationship with this delicate young thing – well, it’s a little disturbing to contemplate.
Ultimately the film devolves into a bunch of CGI action sequences that are colorful but so redundant it makes one sleepy. And I have to ask, for those who’ve already seen the film, what the hell is this scientist doing walking around with a huge stash of Baby Ruth candy bars? Is that normal? And how come the firestarter’s clothes and hair don’t burn? Despite the occasionally exciting moment and a silly yet undeniably appealing hero, Hellboy is just duh. Mmmm… C-
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