Like my other reviews of comic book movies, I should point out my appreciation of the source material. I really enjoy Hellboy the comic – Mike Mignola’s creation is a wonderful idea, the artwork is atmospheric and gothic while still being recognisable as the product of a craftsman, using shadow and line work to express so much, and the stories are a lot of fun, packed with action and folklore tales. So, I was looking forward to this film, especially as it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who did such a great job with Blade II, and because he is also a fan of the book and got Mike involved in the process instead of taking over.
This IS Hellboy on film – it is a wonderful adaptation to the big screen. Ron Perlman IS Hellboy – while not exactly the same as the comic book vision (to my mind), it is just so right, he is the man for the job, acting and sounding exactly like Hellboy should without giving way to focus groups or a bigger film star who would want their face to come through more. The mood and the atmosphere is portrayed as in the comic, as if the comic was simply animated in real life (much like Robert Rodriguez has done with Sin City). It was a joy to watch, a visual delight, and a lot of fun.
It isn’t perfect, by any means. Although the story is mostly the same as the comic story The Seeds of Destruction, it uses the introduction of a new member of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, a human being from the FBI, as a storytelling technique to introduce Hellboy to us. This is a valid way of letting the audience know what’s going on without it sounding like a lot of exposition, but it seemed forced and set the film off-balance. There was little in the way of explaining the story in the books without any confusion or feeling that you were missing out on things, but we comic book readers are more able to take in strange and unusual stuff without needing it spoon-fed.
Our newbie, Myers, is the new ‘caretaker’ for Hellboy, a 7-foot-tall, red demon with horns, a tail and a stone right hand who takes care of all the nasty things that leak into our dimension, with the aid of Abraham Sapien, a water-based creature with empathic senses, both under the supervision of Dr Bruttenholme (John Hurt), the man who ‘discovered’ Hellboy when he came to Earth when Rasputin opened a portal to the dimension of the Seven Gods of Chaos during World War II. Meanwhile, Rasputin has been resurrected after his death and his returning to his plans of bringing about the end of the world using Hellboy as was originally planned. But does Hellboy have a say in his destiny?
Selma Blair plays Liz Sherman, a pyrokinetic, who is also the love of Hellboy’s life, and their interaction is very sweet. The emphasised dimension is the father–son relationship between Hellboy and Bruttenholm, which comes across as strong and unspoken, with Hurt bringing a little gravitas to the film (but not too much because it’s still a comic book film). Myers (Rupert Evans) is rather unnecessary, and unfortunately comes across as rather wet. Sapien, played by Doug Jones but voiced by David Hyde-Pierce, is underused, but looks and sounds good, boding well for a sequel as long as they use a story that employs him more fully. The bad guys are just bad guys – no need for explanation or characterisation, because evil things are just evil things in the world of Hellboy and don’t need backstory. Perlman is great, natural and completely in character and totally believable. Guillermo directs with vim and vigour, but the script isn’t his strength, with some occasional leaden dialogue and transitions, and the end sequence is a little uneven. Nonetheless, this is a fun film for fans and non-fans alike, and I’m happy about the announcement of a sequel.