a man a man?
a hard question to answer, perhaps, when the man in question
is almost seven feet tall, lobster red and possessed of both
a massive stone hand and a flickering prehensile tail. Yet
writer/director Guillermo Del Toro poses that central question
in Hellboy, his decent film adaptation of comic book
artist Mike Mignola's masterwork. The query provides surprising
heart to both the film and star Ron Perlman's performance,
an emotional underpinning that keeps us interested even through
the sometimes wearing action scenes.
the action isn't fun. Del Toro starts things off just as Mignola
did, on an island off of Scotland teeming with Nazis and the
potential for ancient evil. Standing against them are a group
of regular joes, American G.I.s ready for action but unprepared
for what they discover. Hitler's top assassin, the Dr. Doom-like
Karl Kroenen, watches implacably as Rasputin (Karel Roden)
prepares to open a doorway to …someplace else.
then Del Toro strikes the balance of the film's tones, as
a floodlight gets sucked into this eerily quiet other dimension
of elder gods. So quiet, in fact, that you can hear an eye
blink before the action starts again in the "real" world.
The director weaves back and forth between high action and
quiet reflection. For the most part, it works, but it never
achieves the sense of dread that one would associate with
evil tentacled monsters preparing to invade the Earth.
should it? We all know that Hellboy and his parent organization,
the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, will stand
against this invasion. Like Mignola's comic book, Del Toro
wants to have fun with the concept, setting up FBI agent Tom
Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) as a public face with the job of
denying that the BPRD exists at all. Of course, right after
denying its existence, we cut to a subtitle identifying the
New Jersey location of the BPRD.
the story being caught up in dark and gloomy proceedings (this
is, after all, about staving off the end of the world as we
know it), the only stereotypical nod goes to the stuffy British
academic Professor Broom (John Hurt), head of the Bureau.
Though the character comes straight from Hammer Studios, Hurt
plays it with a twinkle, clearly relishing the chance to say
such things as, "…there are things that go bump in the night.
We bump back."
and back and back. Though Del Toro and his crew have done
an incredible job of bringing Mignola's work to life, the
fighting does grow tedious. In any conflict, it becomes a
given that Hellboy will go flying backward through the air,
preferably crashing through as many objects as possible. When
it happens as he is actually being pulled backward and breaking
every lamp in a corridor, you know the action has fallen into
there are still some tremendous sequences. A chase through
a Halloween Street Fair and into the subway pauses for breath
occasionally, but still never lets up. The film also brings
its little bit of Ctulhu mythos to cinematic life more effectively
than such films as John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness.
(There's a lot of squirmy stuff.)
quiet touches really make it roll. Even though Hellboy is
over sixty, he still hides from his "father," Professor Broom,
that he smokes.
actors fill their roles with aplomb. Those villains without
armor or tentacles never quite cross over into ham; Roden
actually plays Rasputin with more sensuality than you might
expect, though with his modern sunglasses on he bears a disturbing
resemblance to Joe Pantoliano in The Matrix. Though
Tambor has a lot of his usual insincerity, he shows a flair
for command; though his character, Manning, is often at odds
with Hellboy, it's out of a believable discomfort, not just
for comic relief. Sharing the role of the aquatic Abe Sapien
with voice David Hyde Pierce, Doug Jones brings a sleek physicality,
human and yet clearly not.
role of extremely dangerous love interest, Selma Blair may
finally have the mainstream credit to get higher recognition.
As pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, she plays her conflicted emotions
subtly. Blair's face often has a slightly tired look to it;
it's a quality that serves her well here.
Perlman makes Hellboy's face his own. Part of that should
be a tribute to amazing design from the great Rick Baker,
but Perlman so brings it to life that seeing him without
make-up will be a shock. The script informs us via one of
his handlers that he ages in sort of "reverse dog years,"
so he's physically in his late twenties. But emotionally,
he is even younger, modeling himself after a hard-boiled detective,
and the older Perlman keeps it believable. He gives the demon
child a hint of a Jersey accent, and the incessant one-liners
he offers up are clearly the result of his belief in how he
should behave as a "lone hero."
there's pain beneath the red make-up, and that comes through,
too. For just a moment, Perlman could break your heart as
Hellboy tries to express how he feels about Liz before cracking
Mignola's book, the movie leaves a lot for you to simply accept.
Del Toro, in fact, actually goes a little further toward explaining
Hellboy's purpose than Mignola did. But all that really matters
is that when evil rears its head, there's a devil with a big
gun ready to shoot it off. Though this first cinematic adventure
probably could have been a little shorter and tighter, it's
still enough to make us want to see the Big Red Hellcheese