Movies featuring little know comic book characters have come a long way since the modestly budgeted “The Crow” in 1994. Now Columbia Pictures gives Mike Mignola’s creation the full big budget treatment, complete with a talented cast and cutting edge special effects. But despite all that, you can’t help but feel a little less would have been more.
After a brief origin segment in which Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is conjured to Earth by occultist Nazis and then rescued by the Allies, the film gets down to business. Fast-forward to 60 years later, with an adult Hellboy now working for a top-secret government agency, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Considered an urban legend by the public, Hellboy battles the supernatural creatures that threaten society. But when the Nazis reappear, led by the legendary Rasputin (Karel Roden), Hellboy must stop them from resurrecting an ancient evil and destroying the world. Complicating matters is Rasputin’s attempts to tempt Hellboy’s demonic side, forcing the hero to wrestle with his evil heritage.
“Hellboy” is directed by the talented Guillermo del Toro (“Mimic”), who makes his affection for the character abundantly clear. Del Toro lovingly directs the film, giving it a fairly fast pace and ensuring that important plot parts aren’t lost on the audience. The set design by Hilton Rosemarin is equally excellent, giving the character’s surroundings a surreal and creepy look. The creation of Hellboy by Rick Baker is remarkable; Baker makes Hellboy actually look like someone you might see on the street. Baker’s work goes a long way in helping us to accept Hellboy as a real character and not just some cartoon.
Ron Perlman (“Alien: Resurrection”), despite being encased in prosthetic makeup, gives a resonating performance as the title character. He plays Hellboy as someone with a gruff manner that nevertheless hides a heart of romance and pathos. Perlman resists the temptation to hide behind special effects and delivers an athletic as well as sympathetic performance. John Hurt is good as Professor Brutlenhohm, the man who rescued and raised Hellboy, and who cares for the hell offspring like his own son. Another standout is Rupert Evans as John Myers, the neophyte FBI agent assigned to work with Hellboy. Evans is wet behind the ears and in over his head, but doesn’t let it get in the way of doing his job.
Despite all the film’s positives, “Hellboy” has some problems. The script credited to Del Toro and Peter Briggs is rather long and could have been a lot better with some judicious edits. The story would have also flowed a lot better and not become bogged down in details and slimy CGI monsters. The music by Marco Beltrami is nothing remarkable and at times the composer seems to think he’s scoring a “Scream” sequel rather than a big budget effects movie.
Karl Roden (last seen as a vengeful Nazi in “Bulletproof Monk”) plays the evil Rasputin as so understated that you wonder why the character is supposed to be such a threat. Rasputin winds up looking more like a guy who hung around too many Goth bars rather than the epitome of evil. Likewise for Selma Blair (“Storytelling”) as Hellboy’s object of affection, the pyromaniacal Liz Sherman. She comes across as beautiful but bland, leaving you to wonder why Hellboy couldn’t lose his heart to someone more interesting.
Ultimately “Hellboy” is finely executed, but is made by a fan that is too close to the source material. While well directed by Del Toro and offering up excellent special effects, the film feels too long and suffers from a weak love interest and an unimpressive villain. While “Hellboy” is a treat for fans of the character and comic book fans in general, the average moviegoer might want to find a film that’s more accessible.
Guillermo del Toro (director) / Mike Mignola, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Briggs (screenplay)
CAST: Ron Perlman …. Hellboy
John Hurt …. Broom Bruttenholm
Selma Blair …. Liz Sherman
Rupert Evans …. John Myers
Karel Roden …. Grigori Rasputin
Doug Jones …. Abe Sapien