Hellboy tells the origin story of its titular character in one scene. The rest of the film deals with the job of being a monster hunter for a the government, while also working out issues that are common for teenagers to have—not “people” who are in their 60s. But that’s part of the appeal in a character like this; we get to see him more as a child than an adult, emotionally, even though he uses guns and has action scenes that a child would never get.
Hellboy (Ron Perlman), is a character only referred to as that a handful of times. Usually, he’s called “Red” or “H.B.,” because that’s easier to say and doesn’t confuse the character with the title of the film. The opening scene shows us how this character came to Earth. Nazis, because they’re responsible for anything bad that happens in the 1940s, manage to open up a portal with the intention of freeing the Ogdru Jahad—some creatures that, if released, would bring the end of us all. The good old American forces (although everyone in the film, American or not, speaks English for some inexplicable reason), manage to stop them before the real baddies get released. A small demon-child gets through, one that grows up to be the main character of this movie.
We first meet him as an adult when an FBI agent, John Myers (Rupert Evans), is called upon to be his new best friend and partner. Since Red is still emotionally a child, he requires such things now that his “father,” Professor Broom (John Hurt) is dying. Red and another creature of supernatural powers, Abe (Doug Jones is who we see, but the voice is supplied by David Hyde Pierce), hunt down the bad creatures who appear because one of the people involved in the initial portal-opening is still alive and is bringing them into the world. Yes, the plot is as ridiculous as it sounds.
That’s just about it, too. There are some subplots and the end-goal is to eliminate this “Rasputin” character, but the film mostly revolves around Red and Abe fighting a couple of unique creatures that threaten humanity. But it stays entertaining throughout because it’s well-made and because its characters are all interesting.
Director Guillermo del Toro injects his film with Gothic settings and wonderful, dark environments. He layers his lead actor with makeup and prosthetics that reportedly took four hours to apply. Visually, Hellboy is something that is a joy to behold, at least, when CGI isn’t being used in an obvious way. There are times when the environments are clearly CGI, and when they try to emulate real environments, it’s distracting. In one scene, a train is used for an action scene. The train is either partly or mostly CGI, and you can tell fairly easily. It removes you from the film, and most of it is highly atmospheric, losing this is really noticeable.
Hellboy isn’t a character I knew a lot about going in. After watching the film, I got a good sense of who he was. Forgoing a lot of the origin of the character is a move that means you must give your character depth throughout the majority of the film. You can’t give them personality before things start going wrong, as you’ve decided to not include that part of their story. Thankfully, Hellboy gets this characterization. While he may look like a half-demon, half-man, he acts like he’s in his late teens. He gets the ability to work out his maturation issues thanks to his physique and supernatural powers, but in the end, he just wants the love of his life, a fire-starter named Liz (Selma Blair), and his father by his side.
Hellboy was a lot of fun while I was watching it.
Even though we get a lot of Big Red, the side characters don’t get forgotten about. They certainly don’t get as much time or development as our hero, they’re interesting in their own right, with unique personalities and enough depth to allow them to stand out against the stereotypical characters in action films. We care about these people, and we don’t recognize their personalities being stolen from earlier movies.
The action scenes are, well, action scenes. That’s about the most apt description I can give. They’re serviceable, but nothing more. If the film has a weak point, it’s these. They often feel repetitive and boring, because they usually fall into one of three categories. Either Hellboy uses a gun to shoot at CGI monsters, Hellboy uses his fists to punch CGI monsters, or Hellboy beats on a human. There’s one enemy that isn’t a CGI monster, but instead a man who has an addiction to surgery. He wears something reminiscent of a gimp suit, and uses blades to cut things in two—but only inanimate things. When used against a person, they just kind of fall to death, a death that is completely bloodless. No, I don’t know why that is.
What I most appreciated about Hellboy is its sense of humor. Although it sometimes seemed forced, Hellboy failing to care about the danger that was surrounding him made me chuckle. The times when he acts like a cocky teenager are hilarious, and even when he sets up a stakeout just to spy on Liz and John is funny. The film made me laugh more than it made me gasp in awe of its action scenes, which says something about the quality of its writing.
Hellboy was a lot of fun while I was watching it. Its events and story are completely forgettable, but its characters remain in my mind. The action scenes are surprisingly its weakest points, while the writing and the dark aesthetics made the film for me. I did have a lot of fun, and since that’s the most important thing in an action film, I can say that it accomplished its goal.
Conclusion: Hellboy is a fun superhero movie.
Recommendation: If you like superhero movies, you should watch Hellboy.