April 2, 2004 | He is, quite literally,
a spawn of hell: Bright red, festooned with horns and pointed tail,
a massive and muscular fellow with a misshapen right hand that resembles
a cross between a stone-encrusted steel glove and a really, really
overstuffed ottoman. And, mind you, he's the hero of the piece.
Say hello to Hellboy , a rock-the-house sci-fi/fantasy extravaganza
in which the title character is a domesticated demon who smokes cigars,
gobbles Baby Ruths and speaks in the terse, tough-guy argot of a film
noir hero. Most of the time, he tempers his satanic image by keeping
his horns filed down to meticulously-tended stumps. But that doesn't
mean he's averse to raising hell, especially when he's giving hell to
even more monstrous adversaries.
Based on Mike Mignola's cult-fave Dark Horse comic books, Hellboy clearly
is a labor of love for director Guillermo Del Toro ( Blade II ),
an unabashed buff who has described his fan-friendly film as entertainment “made
by geeks for geeks.” But don't let any of that keep you away: Even if
you score low on the geek-o-meter – that is, even if you can't tell which
elements of the film smack of H.P. Lovecraft or Men in Black ,
and which appear influenced by X-Men or X-Files --
you can savor Hellboy as a full-throttle action-adventure with
state-of-the-art special effects.
Del Toro begins with a bang – several bangs, actually – during a blood-and-thunder
prologue set during World War II. A devilish little imp is accidentally
transported to Earth while Nazi scientists and a curiously undead Grigori
Rasputin (Karel Roden) try to contact the dreaded Ogdru Jahad (a.k.a.,
Seven Gods of Chaos). Fortuitously, the imp is claimed by kinder, gentler
folks, and adopted by Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm (John Hurt), a supernatural
expert for a top-secret U.S. agency, the Bureau of Paranormal Research
Hellboy (Ron Perlman) grows up to be just
like his surrogate dad. Specifically, he works with Broom at BPRD headquarters
in Newark, N.J., usually venturing outside only to aid in the investigation
(and destruction) of paranormal threats. Lately, however, H.B. repeatedly
has gone AWOL to reconnect with sad-eyed Liz Sherman (Selma Blair),
who fled BPRD because she fears she can no longer control her fire-spreading,
pyrokinetic powers. H.B. loves her, of course, but duty calls. Along
with fellow BPRD regular Abe Sapien (amusingly voiced by unbilled David
Hyde Piece), a scaly and telepathic “gill man” who thrives underwater,
H.B. joins Broom and other agents at a Manhattan museum where an immense
monster is wreaking havoc.
The bad news: The monster is a well-nigh indestructible beast that resembles
the love child of Alien and an octopus. The worse news: Rasputin,
the man behind the monster, is more than willing to destroy Broom and
kidnap Liz if that's what it takes to draw Hellboy over to the dark side.
Del Toro isn't always attentive to such niceties as coherent transitions
and spatial relationships while warp-speeding through his storyline.
Worse, he occasionally neglects to prepare uninitiated audiences with
context from the comic books. Fortunately for all parties involved, the
well-cast lead actors generate rooting interest in their individual characters,
thereby sustaining our involvement and propelling the plot through sheer
force of their colorful personalities.
Perlman is terrifically boisterous and literally
larger than life, yet he also manages to elicit sympathy for H.B. In
this, he is immeasurably aided by Hurt, who's genuinely poignant in
his sometimes exasperated, sometimes exuberant relationship with Broom's “son.” Blair
conveys a wealth of mixed emotions with each melancholy smile, while
newcomer Rupert Evans is engagingly game as John Myers, a young FBI
agent who's hell-bent on becoming Hellboy's new best friend. And Jeffrey
Tambor is amusing effective as a blustering bureaucrat who doesn't
entirely trust H.B., but routinely bends over backward to cover all
traces of the latter's existence.
Pointedly distaining the current craze for wire work and martial artistry
in movie mayhem, De Toro provides an abundance of two-fisted, straight-shooting
action throughout Hellboy . H.B.'s dust-ups with various icky
creeps are at once rousingly exciting and explosively funny, often playing
like oversized smackdowns between WWE superstars. (The matching of humans
with CGI creatures is mostly seamless.) Our hero is armed with a humongous
revolver, which he loads with industrial-strength bullets, but he's also
capable of doing damage with his bare hands. Or, to be more specific,
with his bare left hand and his super-sized right one. Good for him.