directed by Guillermo Del Toro
starring Ron Perlman and Selma Blair
review by Stephen Notley
I had, perhaps, unrealistically high hopes for Hellboy. Having just seen the completion of a near-perfect adaptation in The Lord of the Rings I was on a real big kick about "right choices", how Jackson made 49, 985 of them out of 50,000. This was my mind as I watched Hellboy wind through production, and I figured I saw the same good good choices. A great character, tons of visual appeal, perfect casting, plus a director who loved the character, had his own distinct style and was working closely with the original creator to develop the movie. Should be a slam-dunkarino.
So it was a twinge of disappointment that I found Hellboy to be well… *good*, but not great. I expected a home run and got a solid triple; the movie is only as good as the sum of its parts, but no better.
That sum is still pretty good, though, worth seeing the movie for. From the beginning the coolest thing about a Hellboy movie was gonna be Hellboy himself, and Perlman cracked that one right of the park. His Hellboy is a bit brattier than the one in the comic, but he's the guy, no question, a demon brought to earth to destroy it but raised right and now he's a regular workin' stiff who just happens to be red and have a giant stone hand that can unlock the gates of destruction. He's funny, he's tough, he beats up monsters, he saves kittens, he raps with 9-year-olds… he's great.
And there's plenty o' stuff in there besides Hellboy, o my yes. We've got super-slick telepathic fish-man Abe Sapien, we've got a zombie Nazi ninja assassin, we've got rah-rah-Rasputin, we've got a bunch o big dumb monsters for Hellboy to fight plus a couple of bigger ones, we've got Jeffrey Tambor (Hank from The Larry Sanders Show), we've got John Hurt… the list goes on.
And that's kinda the problem. The movie, fun as it is, tends to come off more as a Hellboy sampler than as a crackin' good story, a mush of Hellboy elements that don't quite tie together. Consider that the most well-developed storyline is the romantic one. Now, I have no problem with that in itself -- it's a good romantic story with affecting moments. Problem is, none of the other plot threads have anything like the continuity and forward motion of the love story. Thus, all the crazy-ass stuff going on with Rasputin and Kronen and Sammael never amounts to much more than a lot of punching. Good, quality punching, to be sure, sprinkled with Perlman wit and charm, but basically a series of kinda unconnected fights that don't push the story forward and make every encounter more tense and stakeful than the last.
A big part of the charm of the comic is the way it casually embraces so many different ideas, from Lovecraftian Cthulic mythology to medieval Christianity to Russian folklore to Nazi superscientists to pulp-action heroes from the 40s, and yet somehow it all hangs together. In the movie you've got all that stuff but it kinda hangs loose. Like, near the end there's a big action sequence involving a bridge and a huge pendulum -- you've caught a glimpse of it if you've seen the trailer. It's a cool setup for an action sequence but I couldn't help thinking: What *is* this place? A Mayan temple fitted with a rolling boulder to chase Indy out after he's stolen the idol I can understand, but who built this giant underground city with a bridge designed to be smashed to pieces by a pendulum? Sure, Hellboy dodges the pendulum heroically and all but, like, why?
Those nagging "whys" kept me from totally embracing Hellboy, even though I and the people I saw it with had a good time, and I wanna see it again. It was good, really good, it just didn't… completely… kick… ass. Maybe we'll see it in the sequel.