Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/10/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Based on Mike Mignola's comic book, Hellboy is the story of a red, demonic creature from Hell as he is raised by a professor while fighting other demons for the U.S. government. Directed by Guillermo del Toro with script adaptation by del Toro and Peter Briggs along with additional work from Mike Mignola, the film is a different take on the comic book hero by focusing on a monster with a heart while straying from the origin stories of most comic-book film adaptations. Playing the role of the titular character is del Toro regular Ron Perlman as the cast includes Doug Jones, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Jeffrey Tambor, Ladislav Beran, Karel Roden, and John Hurt. The result is an entertaining yet visually-astonishing film from Guillermo del Toro.
After encountering a creature during an attack on Nazis in 1944, a young professor named Trevor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) would take this little red infant with a big hand and little devil horns and raise him as he's dubbed Hellboy. 60 years later, Bruttenholm (John Hurt) runs the top secret Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) that Hellboy is a part of along with a fish-like psychic humanoid named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones w/ the voice of Abe Sapien). A young FBI agent named John Myers (Rupert Evans) joins the team as he's selected to be part of the team as he fills in for the absent Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) who has checked into a mental hospital due to her control issues with her pyro-kinetic abilities. Myers joins Hellboy and Abe on a mission to fight a creature that is starting to attack the city where Hellboy would encounter a mysterious man (Karel Roden) where Abe discovers that the man is a revived Grigori Rasputin. With Rasputin's aide Isla von Haupstein (Biddy Hodson) and their assassin Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Ladislav Beren), Bruttenholm realizes what is going on through Abe's psychic visions.
After the battle with the monster, Hellboy sneaks out to visit Liz where she is later visited by Rasputin who makes her lose control of her powers. After discovering the eggs that were latched on Hellboy's body from the fight with the monster, Abe and Bruttenholm figure out what is going on as Bruttenholm revealed to Abe and Myers that he's dying and doesn't want Hellboy to know. After Liz's hospital incident, Myers convinces her to return to the BPRD following another botched mission where Hellboy encountered more monsters including the assassin Kroenen. Though Hellboy is happy for Liz's returns, she decides to spend time with Myers much to his dismay. Bruttenholm discover Kroenen's body as he is aware it's going to back to life where he would also encounter Rasputin who tries to get Bruttenholm to see a vision of the role that Hellboy is destined to play. After Rasputin's break-in and Kroenen's escape, FBI head Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) takes over as Hellboy, Liz, and Myers go to Russia with Manning to stop Rasputin with the aid of a corpse named Ivan (voice of Guillermo del Toro). There, Hellboy is forced to deal with his true roots and destiny where he faces Rasputin and various creatures in all-out battle over the fate of Earth.
Most comic book adaptations often tell the story of how heroes became who they are and such. For Hellboy, it's different though the film's first 10-15 minutes tell the story of how he's found by Professor Bruttenholm. Instead, the film does act like a standard, comic book type of film but with a mix of dry humor, lots of action, and elements of horror and fantasy. Co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro plays true to the film's comic book standard story while adding a bunch of hilarious one liners, a sense of improvisation, a lot of action, and moments of fantasy. Though the plot and story has moments of predictability that comes with most comic book film adaptations, del Toro makes up for it with humor and accessible characters where Hellboy knows he's a hero. One who likes to eat loads of pancakes, Baby Ruth, chomp on cigars, and listen to Tom Waits.
The direction of del Toro is truly superb with a lot of style and flair as he creates a film that is true to the look of a comic book but meshed with fantasy. From the look of New York City and New Jersey to the look of Russia, del Toro has amassed a look that is true to his love of comics and fantasy while adding elements of monsters and creatures that are a mix of puppetry and visual effects. Guillermo del Toro also creates moments where he lets the audience have a break from the action for characters to develop and even delve into humor and drama. The approach that del Toro creates is truly solid and definitely a film that is true to both his own vision as well as Mike Mignola.
Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro creates a wonderful look to the film on a visual scale with use of blue-green lights for some of the film's exterior scenes in Russia as well as some of the battle scenes with Sammael. Navarro's sepia-like, yellowish look is truly wonderful and awash with style as Navarro's work is definitely a highlight of the film. Editor Peter Amundson does some excellent job with the film's leisurely yet rhythmic pacing while creating great cuts for action and drama for the film's sense of style and such. Production designer Stephen Scott along with set decorator Hilton Rosemarin, and supervising art director Simon Lamont do an amazing job in the look of the underground base that Hellboy lives in, the look of New York City, and the world of Rasputin.
Costume designer Wendy Partridge does an excellent job with the film's costumes with the Nazi garb that Rasputin and his cohorts wear to the long trench coat that Hellboy wears as it adds a sense of coolness to the character. Makeup designer Rick Baker does an amazing job with the film's look for several of the film's characters including Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Sammael. Especially in the work Baker and his team create for the actors in playing those roles along with Baker's brilliant special effects work. Visual effects supervisors Edward Irastorza and Jonathan Rothbart do great work on the look of the monsters and look for some of the film's spectacular scenes that involves Rasputin's look into the future and such. Sound designer Steve Boeddeker and editors Frank E. Eulner and Robert Shoup do great work in the sounds of gunshots, growls (provided by Guillermo del Toro), and such to add a sense of fantasy and horror to the mix.
Music composer Marco Beltrami does some excellent work on the film's music with use of a string orchestra to emphasize on the film's action, drama, and humor while creating triumphant themes for some of the film's action. Beltrami's score is definitely excellent and top notch. The soundtrack features a diverse mix of music ranging from Tom Waits, Vera Lynn, Pete Yorn covering Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand, Palo Alto, Johnny Crawford, and Al Green for emphasis on humor and such.
The casting by Jeremy Zimmerman is definitely top notch with cameos by del Toro and comic book writer Mike Mignola as onlookers in a battle scene along with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro's two kids Alvaro and Emilio also as onlookers. Small roles from Angus MacInnes as a World War II sergeant, Jim Howick as a WWII corporal, and in the roles of FBI agents, Brian Caspe James Babson, and Stephen Fisher. Brian Steele does some great work in playing the Sammael monster with his miming movements while notable, standout small roles from Corey Johnson and Kevin Trainor as their respective roles as Agent Clay and the young Professor Bruttenholm are also good. Biddy Hodson is excellent as Rasputin's loyal assistant and lover Isla with her sneering delivery while Ladislav Beran is great as the mute assassin Kroenen.
Karel Roden, who worked with del Toro on Blade II, is brilliant as the villainous Rasputin whose desire for power and terror is matched by his huge presence as a man who is hell-bent on destroying the world and such. Roden's work is great for just being an excellent villain. Jeffrey Tambor is wonderfully funny as Tom Manning, the FBI director who often has issues with Hellboy as he serves as the comic relief for the film. Rupert Evans is excellent as John Myers, the agent sent to be Hellboy's reluctant partner as he tries to help Liz deal with her issues while trying to help Hellboy about his role. Though Doug Jones doesn't actually speak, with an un-credited David Hyde Pierce doing the voice, Jones' performance as Abe Sapien is great for its movements and such as Jones brings life to the character.
John Hurt is wonderful as Professor "Bloom" Bruttenholm, Hellboy's adopted father who worries for what would happen to his son when he won't be around. Hurt's performance is full of class and brilliance as an old man whose knowledge of the occult and magic shows a man who teaches his son about doing what is right. Selma Blair is great as Liz Sherman, a pyrokinetic woman with special powers struggling to deal with those powers and the harm it has caused as well as her relationship with Hellboy. Blair's performance is definitely the anchor needed for Hellboy's own recklessness as the chemistry she and Perlman have is great.
Finally, there's Ron Perlman in the title role as it's a rare leading performance for the veteran actor for any kind of U.S. studio picture. Perlman definitely sells the role with such wit, humor, and charm as he plays a hero who likes being a hero while getting to smoke a cigar and fighting monsters. It's the kind of role that most actors can't do but Perlman does it with such ease, it's as if he's born to play the character as he proves he can be a badass with a heart of gold despite being the biological son of the Devil. It's a great performance from Perlman who often doesn't get a lot of work outside Europe or playing roles fitted for character actors.
Hellboy is a superb and well-crafted film from Guillermo del Toro that features an outstanding performance from Ron Perlman. Along with with great supporting work from Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, and Jeffrey Tambor. It's a comic-book action film that has great visuals as well as a strong story that is a cut above most comic-book adaptations. Notably as it features a lot of heart in the complex relationships that del Toro wanted to create that allows its audience to relate to its titular character. In the end, Hellboy is an entertaining yet evocative film from Guillermo del Toro.
Guillermo del Toro Films: Cronos - Mimic/Mimic (Director's Cut) - The Devil's Backbone - Blade II - Pan's Labyrinth - Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Pacific Rim - Crimson Peak - The Auteurs #10: Guillermo del Toro
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