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Hellboy

“Hellboy,” Mike Mignola’s epic comic concoction of government
conspiracy, the occult, Nazis, and a cigar chomping red protagonist
spawned directly from the depths of moral depravity has long been
considered one of the most intense graphic rides in the history of the
medium. Geek-cum-director Guillermo Del Toro (“Cronos,” “Mimic,” Blade
II,” etc.) crafts his film version of “Hellboy” as a labor of love with
constant care and nobility as only a true fan can, while avoiding the
usual pitfalls of adapting a complex work one loves: Del Toro doesn’t
lose those of us unfamiliar with the comic or waste time with clumsy
exposition. This is a comic-book origin tale, on par with Tim Burton’s
“Batman” or either or the “X-Men” films, with a level of intelligence
absent from most films (American or otherwise, you snobs) today, let
alone adaptations of graphic novels.

More importantly, “Hellboy” is one of the most entertaining
action extravaganzas of the past several years (not named “Kill Bill”)
and if there is any justice in this cold, cruel world it will rake in
enough cabbage to compete with “The Passion” and spawn the promised
franchise. While the previews have suggested a bizarre cross between
the “Blade” films and the unwatchable “League of Extraordinary
Gentleman,” “Hellboy” is actually a living comic book. There are
characters you care about despite or even because of their, say, giant
fish eyes or two foot horns. This is not spectacle for spectacle’s
sake, but a world where superheroes exist just under the surface of the
collective conscience, and Del Toro makes the audience not only except
this, but enjoy it, relishing in the characters and adventures and
investing in their relationships and tragedy’s.

All this and a Nazi assassin named Kroenen who makes Darth Maul
look about as scary as wheel-chair-bound Franklin in the original “The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But more on him later.

The story opens in the 1940s, where Adolph Hitler has gained the
assistance of long-dead (even then) mad monk Grigori Rasputin, to open
up a portal to Hell and retrieve the ultimate evil from some sneaky
World War II related world destruction. Luckily, Prof. Bruttenholm, the
paranormal advisor for President Roosevelt shows up in the nick of time
with a handful of marines. They close the portal and kill of most of
those involved, but not before a little red demon-baby emerges from the
flames. The Prof. takes the young Hellboy under his wing, and raises
him at the very-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

Sixty years later, we meet Hellboy (now Ron Perlman) again, who
ages at a much slower rate than humans (he’s in his early 30s). Hellboy
is a sarcastic, caustic creature who lifts weights and cares for kittens
when he’s not ridding the world of monsters for our protection. The
Prof, now in his 80s (in the form of John Hurt, who gives the character
charm and gravity unexpected in a comic flick), still runs the Bureau,
but is slowing down and hoping to groom a successor in young FBI agent
John Meyers (Rupert Evans). Hellboy’s partner is the fish-like Abe
Sapien, a telepathic water-breather with a knack for reading ancient
texts and an unholy love of spoiled eggs. We meet these characters
through the eyes of Agent Meyers, and like him we soon forget how
strange they look. By the time Rasputin rises from the grave to induce
Hellboy back into furthering Ragnarok, the audience is more concerned
with plot and characters than appearance.

Perlman is perfect as Hellboy, playing his internal conflict
between his love of the pyrotechnic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and his
desire to close of as a brooding anti-hero (which is impossible,
showcased in a hilarious and almost touching scene Perlman shares with a
young boy on a rooftop). The studio wanted someone more bankable than
odd character actor Perlman, and rumor had it both Vin Diesel and The
Rock were mentioned to play the character. Del Toro fought tooth and
nail to get Perlman underneath the red makeup and shorn horns, and we
all owe him a debt of gratitude. Hopefully this will raise perlman’s
stake in Hollywood, and we’ll see the gifted actor in a few more
big-budget geekfests.

The rest of the cast and characters are fun and engaging, and I
won’t spoil any surprises of their introductions or interactions.
However, I must return for a moment to Kroenen, Rasputin’s loyal
right-hand-man. From the first shot of him, clad in an SS uniform
producing spring-loaded knives from his sleeves, the audience is aware
they’ve just seen the coolest character in the whole film. Kroenen,
addicted to surgery and so fast with a weapon he makes Jackie Chan look
like the fat guy from “The Butterfly Effect,” Kroenen is cool because
you want to watch him, not because the filmmakers have decided, ahead of
time, that they want him as the “cool breakout character” (I’m looking
at you, George Lucas).

This is why “Hellboy” works. A film by a director who
understands that excess is fine as long as it’s grounded in something we
care about, and an audience (especially one of horror or comic-book
fans) respond to characters they love, not characters they’re told they
should love by cynical studios trying to cell 32 ounce cups at Taco
Bell. “Hellboy” is why we go to see big budget movies, or at least why
we should, and I hope the Box Office reflects this for a long time to
come.

Official Score