The character of the superhero in this big-budget adaptation of Mike
Mignola's cult comic book would seem to confirm the oft held view that we are
molded by our environment. You might not expect that potential in a creature
from hell, but this one responds so well to tender loving care that he throws
off his birthright to perpetrate evil and throw in his lot with the good
guys. Us. This superhero's destiny has a lot to do with ours.
Hellboy is our boy. Borrowing a bit from The Terminator, he turns into a
protector of mankind, defending earth from the demonic ravages his universe
intends to spring on us. While the T's came from the future in order to
change it to our benefit, Hellboy comes from a region of dark forces that
wants to destroying our world. He, in fact, is the key to that outcome, sent
as the one who will unlock the passageway from which utter destruction will
emanate. The actual key to the lock is part of him and the will to carry out
the mission is programmed within him.
What the dark forces didn't reckon on was the nurturing effect of kind humans
and, even, one with whom he could fall in love.
Young Prof. Brutenholm (Kevin Trainor), the scientist at the head of the
super-secret Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, leads a platoon of
World War II commandos to a high mountain redoubt in Scotland where a team of
Nazis, in league with resurrected, super-empowered Russian Grigori Rasputin
(Karel Roden), are about to use a "Hell-Hole Generator" open a window to
another universe in order to transport Ogdru Jahad (Seven Gods of Chaos) who
will join the Nazis in ruling life on earth.
When our soldiers engage the jack-booted troops, they manage to close the
hole, but not before a creature passes through to our side. It's smallish,
red in color, has a stone hand on one arm, looks cuddly, and responds to a
couple of candy bars with anxious gusto. This is infant Hellboy.
The good doctor takes charge of him as a parent and, some 60 years later, when
Hellboy is more Hell-man, grown up, cigar-smoking and, as realized by Ron
Perlman and crafty body prosthetics left over and re-dyed red from "The
Hulk," very mighty. He's also a guy whom the Professor (John Hurt) can't
let loose on his own because of the mischief he creates. But, he's a weapon
extraodinaire when bad guys like Rasputin and his tentacled monsters rise up
again from their supernatural pit.
Helping Hellboy in these exploits with extra-sensory perception is fishboy
Abe Sapien, a smooth character who lives in water or air with equal comfort
and who can echo-locate through rock walls, read minds, see into the future
and whatever, as handy a superhero companion as there could be--except that
this C-3PO derivative from Star Wars appears to spring up from no discernable
story source, much as Dr. Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) who seems to be
present as little more than a continuing annoyance.
Demonstrating the totality of Hellboy's transition to the human side is his
abject and unrequited love for Liz Sheridan (Selma Blair), a sullenly
beautiful lady who may not be as human as she appears. Her power to muster
blue flames as though her mind is a pilot light in a stove clearly puts her
in a category all her own and in an institution to deal with the depressions
caused by the uncontrollability of her gift. "I hate being called a
firestarter," she complains. Be that as it may, and coming in handy when
writer-director Guillermo del Toro needs to pull it out against the enemy,
she was ostensibly raised with Hellboy and seems to have a sisterly affection
for the poor giant. This leaves her emotional side open to respond to the
attentions of FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans), creating a love triangle
and breaking Hellboy's heart. (By this time there's no doubting that he has
Until the last few frames, that is. [Possible spoiler: skip this paragraph
if you haven't seen the film] After the havoc of the CGI effects turn
to straight photography, the picture ends with an embrace between Hellboy and
Liz that appears to suggest that she's fallen in love with him and spurned
Evans. It smacks of sequel teaser material to me, and my money's on Hellboy,
in the inevitable next installment, to play the good guy to the max and
accept her more natural inclination for a home boy. But, what a note to play
at the finale.
Which demonstrates something about Del Toro's sensibilities in depicting
human relationships. He's got the action part down pat, he even comes up
with moments of poetic poignancy and humor, but his prior work (vampire
device in "Cronos"; giant cockroach in "Mimic", and the technically
accomplished but superficial "Blade 2") can be said to be emotion-challenged.
He tried to correct that in this big budget spectacular but the clarity of
his emotional line is foggy at best and leaves you with a feeling of
imbalance, if not confusion. But then, a devoted reader of the comic strip
could probably explain it to me.
In this latest collaboration with Del Toro, Ron Perlman may have found his
best role to date. He seems to be made for the part, delivering believable
physical action along with adroit humor of the crack-up variety. His
annoyance and disdain for the ever attacking creatures and for the pain they
inflict on him is a unique note for the character. John Hurt is all the part
of the concerned, doting professor calls for; and Evans is totally
appropriate as the eager all-American FBI agent in love. Most impressive as
a warm object for our heros' affections is the attractive modesty of Selma
Blair. Her moments on screen are almost scene-stealing, which could be
indicative of the sheer need for escape from the pervasive combat action that
she so sensually provides.
~~ Jules Brenner