Guillermo del Toro
Comic-book stories have had a haphazard history when converted to cinema. It is often a case where they are incredibly feeble, ridiculous and almost unwatchable affairs that for the most part outweigh more robust efforts in their quantity.
Yet occasionally there comes a finely crafted, imaginative and totally engrossing adaptation – Tim Burton’s Batman and its sequel, Batman Returns are brilliantly told gothic tales of the legendary hero. More recently the exhilarating X-Men and Spider-Man franchises come to the forefront. Thankfully Hellboy can be added to that small list of successful big-screen versions.
The mad, mystic Russian monk, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Ruden) leads a black magic ceremony in the moors of Scotland toward the end of the Second World War to aid the Nazis in their losing fight against allied forces. The occult ceremony is raided by the allies and the obsessive Dr.Broom (John Hurt) but not before a demon from the infernos of Hell is conjured. Fortunately, the demon child is taken into care by the magnanimous Broom where he is taken back to America and raised to be a hero in a quest to fight the dark forces of evil.
Skip sixty years later and Broom is in poor health, but still an integral part of the FBI’s clandestine Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Here are nurtured a bizarre family of mutants – Hellboy (Ron Perlman), the telepathic Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) who has a power to start raging fires. Together they must stop Rasputin from regaining Hellboy and prevent the dooming apocalypse.
Based on the popular Dark Horse comic series created by Mike Mignola, Hellboy is fortunate to be in the talented hands of director Guillermo del Toro whose previous films include The Devil’s Backbone and the excellent Blade 2. The main appeal of Hellboy is the lead character himself, his sardonic wit and humour is often hilarious. Ron Perlman plays the character brilliantly and makes him more likable than any comic hero since Batman and Superman – it’s good to see this underrated actor take the lead role in a successful mainstream film.
John Hurt gains equal applause as the brainy paranormal professor, but unfortunately as much time and care is not taken with the other characters. Liz Sherman is Hellboy’s love interest and is not given enough screen-time to show off her powers of inferno, while Abe Sapien offers occasional help but his interesting character is largely peripheral. Rupert Evans too is given inadequate character development as the FBI agent assigned to play nanny to Hellboy, falling foul of him when he takes a rather too interest in Liz.
Although the pace of the film is rather slow at times, the action scenes and special effects – which are immense and handled with care – substitute for any tedious drawn-out jargon about the occult. Hellboy is a deadly trip through a world of mad occultist villains, a samurai Nazi, huge vicious beast’s straight from the pages of H P Lovecraft and epic visions of hell.
After the recent, diabolical Catwoman, Hellboy makes up for an reluctance to watch cinematic comic book conversions. Had this been a Stephen Sommers or Paul W S Anderson film, perhaps my words would be less benign.