Hellboy (2004) Review

Keepin’ it real and kickin’ ass to Hell and back!

I’m honestly heart broken.

After hearing the news that “Hellboy 3” wasn’t happening, I was disappointed.  Hearing it’s getting the Spider-Man treatment in the form of a reboot too soon was just salt on the wound.  So me being borderline inconsolable, I wanted to watch this one again to relive the irreplaceable goodness that is a Ron Perlman performance in a Guillermo del Toro film.

Del Toro is, for all intents and purposes, a visual genius with a flair for good dialogue.  Try to imagine a Tim Burton film with some hint of subtlety and that’s what we’re treated to in this world where a Nazi summoned demon is adopted by a kindly Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and given his namesake.  We learn Hellboy (Perlman) has a thing for cats, likes nachos and loves Elizabeth Sherman (played to sultry perfection by Selma Blair).  In between all that, he’s also something of a demon slayer; the enforcer who bumps back at those who go bump in the night.

Okay, we get Hellboy is not of this world, but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most fleshed out superheroes out there.  Part of that’s because del Toro knew just how much set dressing was needed to establish a character without going overboard, knowing full well that in Perlman’s capable hands, Hellboy would shine in his own right.

Shine he does, as Perlman makes the title character equal parts bad ass, sympathetic and vulnerable.  Most is Perlman’s doing of course, who’s no stranger to having his distinct features plastered in enough make up to make a Kardashian raise an eyebrow.  That’s an important fact to consider with casting, as actors need to over-exaggerate their reactions to get their emotions across: Perlman accomplishes this without coming across as comical.  The other part is del Toro, who exponentially improves as a director with each film outing.  Special note is that English is his second language, yet he writes better dialogue than most professionals.

But let’s not sell the rest of the cast short, who all pull their weight and deliver some awesome performances.  Special note goes out to Doug Jones, clad head to toe in make up to bring to life the eccentric and endearing Abe Sapien.  David Hyde Pierce dubbed over Jones’ performance, but was so wowed by the physicality of Abe that Pierce refused on screen credit.  When you can get an actor like Pierce to tip his hat in your direction, you’re something truly special.

It helps the actors immensely when most of the set is actually in front of them with practical effects awe inspiring enough that they make you wonder if the crew sacrificed a chicken over a Ouija board.  Sammael is a visually striking and legitimately dangerous creature, but I can’t help but shake that del Toro was holding himself back from letting his monster design brilliance from fully blossoming.  I don’t know if that’s because he wanted to be as faithful to the comics as possible, but it’s a minor nitpick.

If there is a gripe, Liz and Hellboy’s history isn’t all that fleshed out.  They’re great together, and watching Hellboy come to terms with their relationship is a mesmerizing and heart churning scene, but it would’ve had more gravitas if we knew why they were so entwined.  Yeah, they worked together, but I wanted to see what made them “click,” then have Hellboy fall for her.

Again, it’s a shame that this universe won’t be continued, as this film laid the groundwork for an insanely captivating universe with some of the most memorable characters in a superhero movie this side of Marvel.  I’m willing to give the impending reboot a shot, but again, there’s no topping a Perlman performance in a del Toro action fest.

8.5/10

PROS: Cast: Special effects: Well done action

CONS: No real sense of character history

 

 

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