Main cast: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), John Hurt (Professor Trevor Broom), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abraham ‘Abe’ Sapien), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Karel Roden (Grigori Rasputin), and Jeffrey Tambor (Dr Tom Manning)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Firstly, let me give sweet chocolate kisses to the casting people that finally allows Ron Perlman to headline a movie that seems to be made especially for his special brand of wit-laden kickass. His Hellboy is actually not too different from his role in Guillermo del Toro’s previous directorial effort Blade II, but after decades of getting stuck as tough sidekicks in various movie and TV roles, it’s about time that Mr Perlman gets a leading role of his own.
I nearly didn’t watch this movie because of several reasons. The censors in Malaysia deem the title Hellboy too offensive and has this movie renamed to Super Sapiens. “What on earth is that?” is my reaction, and the horrid trailer complete with cheesy effects doesn’t change my mind one bit. Still, I’ve heard good things about the comics. When I had some time to kill, hey, why not?
The movie starts off in 1944 where it turns out that Hitler is using supernatural forces to help him win the War and it is of course up to America to save the day. Professor Trevor Blooms, a prominent figure in America’s covert FBI Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, manages to stop our villain Grigori Rasputin (yes, that Russian Rasputin fellow) but not before Rasputin opens the gate of hell and manages to summon a demonic kid into our world. Trevor adopts the kid and names him, of all things, Hellboy.
I almost walk out of the movie there and then, to be honest. “What is this, a GI Joe parody?” is my thought when I first catch sight of the villain. Yes, Grigori must be Destro, his woman must be the Baroness, and the Nazi assassin must be the Cobra Commander. Still, the action scenes are entertaining in a campy way and I stay put. Again, I almost walk out when I see the grown-up Hellboy. It’s Shrek after a liposuction, and he’s red!
The Hellboy character looks really laughable – Batman’s latex outfit looks more natural than his obviously rubbery mask and fake muscles. But at the end of the day, I am won over by this movie. It has everything I love in a cheesy fantasy action movie – dramatic love, sardonic wit, and over-the-top campy mythology.
In the present day, Hellboy – or Red as he prefers to be known (and can I blame him for that?) – is a grumpy agent of the FBI department who works under his “dad” Trevor to stop demons and other spooky creatures from causing trouble in America. He is not a happy person, however, despite him becoming a popular tabloid figure alongside Big Foot and Elvis. He’s in love with the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman who has fled the FBI HQ to seek refuge at a monastery but he doesn’t know how to tell her. He has no idea though that silly love thingies are the least of his problems. Trevor is dying and has enlisted FBI agent John Myers to act as his replacement as a human confidante and advisor to Hellboy. John is a clean-cut rookie, however, and Hellboy doesn’t take too well to him, especially when John falls for Liz and gets Hellboy even more annoyed at him.
A random encounter with the demon Sammael leads Hellboy and his gang to a nefarious plot of the not-dead-yet Rasputin to summon some demons to Earth and bring about the apocalypse. Can Hellboy stop him in time? Wait until he learns that Rasputin has a trump card in his plans – Hellboy himself.
The main reason why this movie works so well is Perlman’s portrayal of Hellboy, who is a perfect balance of macho aggressiveness and enough vulnerable softness that he tries so hard to keep hidden. Hellboy cracks enough amusing and wry – if not always politically correct – one-liners to keep this movie from turning too dreary or dark. The storyline is quite predictable, but there is enough comedic moments as well as well-done action scenes to keep the momentum of this well-paced movie going strong from start to finish. Despite the strong element of humor, however, the movie isn’t all fluff and sunshine and it has a high body count.
I especially like the love triangle between John, Hellboy, and Liz, even if I generally dislike love triangles. Anything that makes Hellboy show his sensitive (hah!) side is alright with me, but I especially enjoying the dramatic, almost-Japanese anime-like depiction of love that often comes with a lot of over-the-top imageries, symbolisms, and a lovely final scene that defines everything about the love triangle beautifully.
This movie does lose me a little because it has so many questions left unanswered. Maybe people more familiar with Hellboy will understand the movie better than I did, but I still do not know who Rasputin is, or what he is, at the end of the day. What compelled Liz to leave the FBI HQ in the first place? There are also some scenes in this movie that don’t really come together well – I’m still not sure how Sammael is defeated.
Nonetheless, Hellboy is an enjoyable, well-made action fantasy movie, especially for what seems to be the first of a franchise, with enough campy moments to balance its occasional lapses into problematic areas. Whoever put the trailer together should be shot because this movie is infinitely more enjoyable than I thought it would be. When’s the next movie coming out?