I am a comic book fan.
I like comic books and I like comic book movies. When I heard that they
were making a movie of a comic I never had heard of called Hellboy, I cringed.
It sounded bad. Then I did a little research on the character. It seems that his origins involved World War II-era Nazis and the occult.
Then came the trailer and the realization that Ron Perlman
would have the lead role. Gasp. There
are few actors I dislike more than Perlman, who had managed to suck in everything I had ever seen him in starting with the
TV version of The Magnificent Seven and culminating with a sour portrayal of a leather-clad, muscled member of the
vampire elite in Blade II. In between, he had soiled every scene he was
in during Enemy at the Gates. I didnt want him to be the lead in anything,
much less a comic book film I had interest in seeing.
To make matters worse, the trailer kind of sucked. It showed glimpses of a giant, made-up Perlman leaping and punching and punch lining. Coupled with the scenes of the overactive Perlman were Schwarzenegger-ready catch
phrases and some lame CG effects. Add to the mix a woman villain hissing Master
and you get enough reasons not to watch a movie. I got primed for another disappointment. I got so primed that I put off seeing it until it rolled into the local second-run
theater a week ago.
To my surprise, the film was actually a comic book movie
the way I like them: dark and witty. The story starts in the middle of World
War II with Professor Trevor Bruttenholm narrating the action of his younger selfs discovery of the creature that would come
to known as Hellboy.
Occult friendly Nazis led by the over-acting Karel Roden
as Rasputin aim to open a portal to another dimension (never classified as Hell in the film, for you wondering how much blasphemy
is contained in the film). The Professor and a group of American soldiers manage
to thwart the plan and destroy the portal, but not before Rasputin gets sucked in and something else gets through. The something else is a small, blood red creature with a giant stone (?) hand three times as large as its
other one. Its colored appearance and tiny horns cause the soldiers to call it
Jump sixty years into the present day when Agent John Myers
of the FBI is introduced to the American Governments bureau for the paranormal where he is to become the partner of the now
fully grown and fully sarcastic Hellboy, the enforcer of the bureau. Myers and
the audience are also introduced to an much older Professor Bruttenholm and Abe Sapian, a aquatic creature that sounds an
awfully like a Dr. Niles Crane from TVs Fraiser. The character is in fact portrayer
by a seperate actor in heavy make-up and voiced by David Hyde Pierce.
The elite team of the bureau is almost immediately called
out to investigate a creature in the public library (although all I saw was museum artifacts).
Hellboy goes in alone and we quickly learn what the rest of the film will be like: witty, stylish, and dark.
After the outcome of the battle, Hellboy wanders off to
see the object of his affections, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). Sherman is by choice
holed up in a mental institution where she hopes to learn to control outbursts stemming from her ability to produce fire. And all of a sudden, without warning, the hulking red creature exhibits humanity in
one of its oldest forms: longing.
It is the humanity lent to the absurd that keeps the film
grounded. Hellboy, Abe Sapian, Sherman, and Agent Myers are all great characters
in a cinematic world not meant to hold such rich characterizations. Each actor,
even the usually awful Perlman, deliver terrific performances under the haze of make up or absurd situations. They work. The villains, for the most part do not. Rasputin is a dramatic fool, hissing and roaring when a subdued menace would have raised the stakes of
the character and the film. His henchwoman and lover (?) Ilsa (Biddy Hodson)
echoes her counterparts overacting. The only true menace that is felt in the
film is from the hell hounds, hulking creatures in their own rights, and the blade-wielding assassin that wears a sleek gas
mask and never says a word.
The movie contains its own blend of quality versus corniness,
but ultimately, the film is an entertaining diversion and welcome dark contrast to the bright skyline of Spider-man or Superman. I just wasnt blown-away by any aspect of the film itself. I never really was captivated or held within its world like I so desperately wanted to be. I needed to be to get the real immersion comic fans live for. I
never got it.