ovies 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.