Hellboy (2004)

Director:  Guillermo Del Toro
Ron PerlmanDoug Jones, Selma Blair, John Hurt.

Plot:  A demon, raised from infancy after being conjured by and rescued from the Nazis, grows up to become a defender against the forces of darkness.

  Action / Fantasy / Sci-Fi
Awards:  -

Runtime:  122min

Rating:  PG
for sci-fi action violence and frightening images. 

“What makes a man a man?  A friend of mine once wondered.  Is it his origins?  The way he comes to life?  I don't think so.  It's the choices he makes.  Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.” 

Guillermo Del Toro writes and directs Hellboy, a screen adaptation of the popular comic book of the same name. As expected, the Mexican director of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) paints the picture with his unique brushstrokes of inventive visuals and creative art direction.

Using the style of a conventional narrative, Del Toro charts the origins of Hellboy with a prologue that is set many decades back. This flashback approach may be cliché, but it allows viewers a glimpse of the direction Del Toro is taking before the main story sets in.

The film follows John Myers (Rupert Evans) who gets posted to a secret government unit that does research on paranormal activities. Attached to Professor Brooks (John Hurt), Myers meets his team of investigators and of course, Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a red devil with a body of a brute and one with a hell of an appetite.

Perlman’s performance is a fantastic mix of brashness and subtlety, an excellent portrayal of a character who accepts that he can never be human. His mission is to defend humans from the threat of evil paranormal creatures. It comes at a price though, he is not to be seen by the public, and he remains to be a lonely mutant in an indifferent world.

Through the use of real sets and CGI, Del Toro creates one thrilling set-piece after another. The evil creatures are grotesque and vicious, but Hellboy, with his usual air of cockiness, encourages them to take him on. The egoistical lines that Hellboy crack in many parts of the film drastically tone down the seriousness of the picture.

Del Toro wants his film to be enjoyed not so much for its effects, but rather for the whole cheesiness of it all. The suspense is never at a cranking high, and for most parts, the film has a light-hearted, playful feel of a comic book.

While Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) was average by Del Toro’s standards, the first installment is decent. It is for most parts well-crafted, entertaining and visually stunning. It has a jarring continuity error though during one of the climatic sequences toward the end involving Hellboy’s escape from an enormous swinging pendulum.

But the film never suffers screenwriting problems that plague its sequel. Hellboy is a welcome addition to a well-established modern genre that has seen masterpieces in The Dark Knight (2008) as well as trash such as Ghost Rider (2007).  

Verdict:  A decent and visually stunning work that was a welcome addition to the cause for comic book screen adaptations in the early 2000s.


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