Created as the result of a terrifying Nazi experiment in 1944, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has been raised by his mentor Dr Broom (John Hurt) to be a force for good. Now they work for the top-secret Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, hunting down monsters that threaten public safety. But the Bureau's director Dr Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) is increasingly frustrated that his large red agent keeps appearing on the news, so he enlists a young FBI agent, John Myers (Rupert Evans) to "nursemaid" Hellboy and keep him in check. The mad monk Rasputin (Karel Roden), who was involved in the 1944 incident, is back and determined to unleash an awful wrath on the world. Even as this menace is building though, Myers and Dr Broom have trouble keeping Hellboy focused, as he pines for Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a fire-starter and former Bureau member, who has checked herself into a mental health facility.
Review by David Edwards:
Comic book adaptations have had a chequered history of late. Spider-Man was a runaway success, but other big budget productions based on superheroes (Hulk, for example) have failed to inspire. With Hellboy however, the comic book movie has found its feet again.
This energetic, wise-cracking and technically excellent film from noted horror director Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's Backbone; Blade II) succeeds in large part because del Toro is prepared to allow his characters to develop, even as the apocalyptic plot develops around them. For all its fight sequences and CGI monsters, this is a film about overcoming self-doubt and finding your "true self". And if all that sounds a bit highfaluting, there's plenty of butt kicking too.
The film allows del Toro considerable scope to explore some of the themes from his earlier films in more detail. For example, time plays a significant part in this film - including one character who survives by winding himself up like a clock - and was a key theme from his 1993 film Cronos. He also delves into his now-familiar religious ideas with some gusto. Shot with a dark moody tone, the film moves along briskly, skilfully blending humour, horror and action. The set and costume designs are first rate, and the use of atmospheric locations around Prague (standing in for both Russia and New Jersey) adds to the experience.
Hellboy deserves kudos for a mostly restrained - and as a result, effective - use of CGI. Instead of dozens of different monsters (a la Van Helsing), there are but a few; the main one being Sammael, a hell-hound with a nasty habit of reproducing. Some of the effects, notably Liz Sherman's pyrotechnics, are stunning; and the blending of the real and computer-generated elements is generally good. The final battle in which a monstrous creature is unleashed is over-the-top; but by then I'd had such a good time with this film, I was prepared to allow del Toro some excesses.
Where this film comes into its own is with del Toro's deft touch with the characters. From the smart-mouthed but conflicted Hellboy to the demented arch-villain Rasputin, all add to the mix. Unlike many action/horror directors, he knows that some of his best moments come in the quiet times between action sequences. Here, the scene in which Hellboy follows Liz and Myers through the streets is a fine example of one such moment. And despite a fair smattering of occult and end-of-the-world elements in the plot, thank goodness he took the time to lighten the mood with some well-placed humour and stinging one-liners.
After a series of supporting parts and B-movies, Ron Perlman comes into his own as Hellboy. If ever there were an actor perfectly suited for a part, this is it. Even under the thick red make-up and grotesque right hand, Perlman manages to bring out Hellboy's more thoughtful side. Selma Blair shines as the damaged Liz, and John Hurt (also heavily made up) brings considerable gravitas to the film as Dr Broom.
Hellboy is another winner for del Toro, an entertaining and absorbing ride into a nightmarish world. Accessible yet surprisingly deep, this is a film for everyone who likes their comics dark and snappy.
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CAST: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ladislav Beran
PRODUCER: Lloyd Levin, Mike Richardson
DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro
SCRIPT: Guillermo del Toro (comic by Mike Mignola)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Navarro
EDITOR: Peter Amundson
MUSIC: Marco Beltrami
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Scott
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 19, 2004