Early in the film we learn of Hellboy’s origins as a secret weapon in Hitler’s army, near the end of World War II. Fast forward 69 years and Hellboy is working for the U.S. government, but James Bond he’s not, far from it. Hellboy is confined to the BPRD headquarters under the watchful eye of his surrogate father, Professor Broom. His freakish nature has given him a Bigfoot-like anonymity amongst the public.
As the story develops we learn about Hellboy’s tumultuous relationship with Liz Sherman, a fiery, troubled girl, with whom Hellboy is infatuated. A new agent at the Bureau, Myers (hee! that’s my name!), stirs things up, while Tom Manning, the Bureau’s director, tries, in vain, to keep it all under the radar of the media. We soon learn that Hellboy’s creator, Grigori, a Russian man, perhaps a reincarnation of the legendary Rasputin, has risen again to unleash some sort of evil on the Earth. With the help of his accomplices, Kroenen, a cyber-enhanced Nazi, and Ilsya, Grigori’s faithful female companion, he summons up Sammael; a deadly creature that is more than a handful for Hellboy and company.
All these developments and interactions are somewhat lost in the superficiality of the action scenes. The comics had an even mix of investigation and action. The film’s take is somewhat lopsided. Here, Hellboy is more of a brute who takes pleasure in popping off one-liners, than an intuitive detective. Instead of putting the puzzle together, he is told where to go and who to smash. However, the script knows what is best for itself: an action movie with cool effects, not a thinking man’s film.
Del Toro is purportedly vying for a PG-13 rating, but its hard to believe that will be possible with all the violence and blood, not too mention the heavy occult theme. Blade II garnered an R and the two films share many similarities. Like Blade II, Hellboy looks to be stylish and entertaining. Except for some dreadful comic relief early in the third act, the dialogue is sufficiently witty and on par with the storyline. Ron Perlman is perfect, I do mean perfect, for the role of Hellboy. While he certainly isn’t a huge draw at the box office, he has worked with Del Toro twice before, and he is a big guy, so hopefully, he wont be another all CGI character. Other notable casting choices include Selma Blair, as Liz (a less-than inspired choice, in my opinion), John Hurt as Professor Broom, and Jeffrey Tambor, as Tom Manning.
Though I enjoyed the script and look forward to seeing the film on the screen, I had a hard time buying into the idea that this would be a draw to audiences. Hellboy has a cultish following within the comic book world, but to the general public, he is a nobody, far, far from the popularity of Spiderman or the X-Men. Can a less than upstanding superhero with a minute fan base and a devilish appearance bring a crowd to the theaterr It’s not a stretch of the imagination. Perhaps fans enjoy the occasional anti-hero to counter the all the do-gooders out there. After all, Blade was a relatively unheard of comic series before it hit theaters, and while it did deal with the more familiar theme of vampires, it was a surprising success. Though he didn’t direct the first Blade installment, I have a feeling that Del Toro could make a very similar splash when Hellboy comes out in the summer of 2004. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sequel either.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Mike Mignola, Patrick J. Palmer, Mike Richardson
Screenwriters: Mike Mignola and John Byrne (comic), Guillermo Del Toro (adaptation)
Casting Director: Jeremy Zimmermann
Production Companies: Revolution Studios
Distributor: Revolution Studios (Sony)
Shooting Start Date: March – August 2003
Locations: Prague, Czech Republic