“There are things that go bump in the night. And we are the ones who bump back.”
The Scoop: 2004 12A, directed by Guillermo Del Toro and starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and John Hurt.
Tagline: Give Evil Hell
Summary Capsule: Good supernatural monsters fight against evil supernatural monsters with the help of the government and avert all kinds of Armageddon badness.
Rich’s rating: I’m on the horns of a terrible dilemma.
Rich’s review: When the chroniclers of these kind of things look back and write the History of Film, circa 2003-2004, they will call it the Age of the Comic Book Movie. That, of course, is not to say that film translations of comic book characters didn’t exist before then; but somehow (and it’s hard to figure out exactly which film is to blame for this; Spider-Man? X-Men?) in 2003, a couple of superhero films did big business and suddenly every major studio is buying up comic book rights and optioning scripts, all in the name of flooding our screens with as many comic book tinged action movies as they can .
Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing; quite the contrary in fact. I like superheroes, and I think a lot of existing comic book franchises have been crying out for a good film interpretation; though good is a subjective term when we’re dealing with these films, as anyone who has seen League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will attest. And so, stepping into the morass of comic-movies comes Hellboy, smelling slightly of sulphur and carrying a really big gun, bringing a little indie love to the world of comic book hero films currently dominated by the DC and Marvel franchises.
Hellboy, and any number of other independent comic book titles (like Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, or Witchblade) sprung up after my interest in the exploits of the spandex clad heroes had faded from a boyish obsession to a more geeky but acceptable passing interest; I would keep a lazy eye on the events taking place in a few titles, and would splash out for the very occasional graphic novel or collected trade paperback, but that was it; as such, the wave of dark anti-heroes in comic books marched right past me while I was still trying to figure out how they would bring Magneto back to life in X-Men this time…
But my exhaustive research (consisting of a few Google searches) shows that Hellboy seems to be one of those comics that has a huge underground cult following amongst the comic intelligentsia (if there is such a thing), who like it not only for its edgy and interesting storylines, but also because it never “sold out” to the big comic book companies; it’s like the indie band everyone raves about despite them only having pressed 13 copies of their album, and refusing to tour because it would destroy their karma.
I should probably start talking about the film now, right? I just wanted you all to be aware of what exhaustive effort goes into lovingly preparing each of these wordy reviews.
So, Hellboy then. Get ready for some disbelief suspension here, my friends, because this first sentence might be a bit hard to swallow all at once. Back in 1944, Gregor Rasputin (he of Boney M fame) is helping the Nazi Thule Society (an occult branch of the Nazis who really existed, check your history texts, kids!) perform a ritual in an abandoned Scottish castle to open a portal to the dimension where the Seven Chaos Gods slumber and use them to destroy the earth and remake it anew in the perfect fascist utopia. The US Government, not wanting this to happen, sends a British priest and a bunch of soldiers to prevent the portal being opened. This they do, Rasputin is sucked into wherever the portal leads to (not before telling his girlfriend how to bring him back to life though), disaster is averted, Nazis thwarted, and as a little side effect, a tiny demon-child with a stone arm slips into our world to be found by the surviving priest and soldiers.
Flash forwards to the present, and priest, soldiers (now FBI agents), and devil-child turned Devil-adolescent now form the centrepiece of the government’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, or BPRD, along with telepathic fish-man Abe Sapien. And wouldn’t you know it, around the same time that whacky Rasputin character manages to get resurrected by his ageless girlfriend at around the same time, and gets straight back on with the business of causing global Armageddon.
Into this happy family, and forming the basis for the audiences introduction to the BPRD, comes rookie agent John Myers, being trained by the ex-priest Trevor Broom to take his place as Hellboy’s mentor. After the traditional backstories and exposition we’ve come to expect from all these initial comic book films, it’s straight into the action as Hellboy, Abe Sapien (voiced marvellously by David Hyde Pierce, or “That guy who plays Niles in Fraiser”, as he’s more commonly known) and the rest of the BPRD agents take on multiplying demon Sammeal, and ultimately the big bad Russian, Rasputin himself.
For the most part, Hellboy clips along at a nice pace. The origin stories for the characters are disposed of mercifully quickly, giving us plenty of time for some screen action, and Ron Perlman lots of time to chew the scenery and his cigars, make wisecracks, and toss around CGI monsters as the titular red hero. The dynamic between Hellboy and Myers is the traditional “I don’t like new people” turning into “Well I guess you’re OK” as the film progresses, tinged with some adolescent angst on the big red one’s part as he thinks Agent Myers has a think for Hellboy’s crush, pyrokinetic crazy girl Liz Sherman (Selma Blair).
However, despite the interesting characters, the plot for Hellboy is exceptionally formulaic; as the film unfolds, the more jaded movie goers will probably be able to predict scene for scene what will follow; however, that doesn’t necessarily put me off Hellboy that much — after all, it’s an action film; I don’t think anyone thinks they are pushing back the boundaries of modern cinema here.
What did leave a rotten taste in my mouth about Hellboy though was the climactic ending; or rather, the lack of one. Now, in these kind of films, I’ll sit through every cliché in the book as long as you deliver on your big climactic final battle with lots of things exploding and a special effects budget equal to two times the rest of the film. Well, Hellboy’s budget must have run out, because the ending sequence is less titanic clash and more blink-and-you’ll-miss-it resolution. It left me feeling kind of cheated, like queuing for hours to get into the Superbowl just to have one side concede just after kickoff.
As comic book conversions go, there’s nothing wrong with Hellboy that a good 20 minute fight sequence at the end wouldn’t fix. It’s still not horrible, though I’d be wary about recommending it, but the lack of a conclusive battle that the audience can get their teeth into really lets it down. I mean, even Spider-Man got that right!
So, look out for a sequel, and maybe they’ll have enough money to give us the knock-down, drag-out pier six monster brawl you know you all want. Until then, Hellboy is strictly for the hardcore fans.
Kyle’s rating: I love following Rich: he does all the heavy lifting, research and plot-wise!
Kyle’s review: I happen to be one of those comic book fanatics Rich mentions in his review. I first encountered Mike Mignola’s Hellboy when I was on vacation in Monterey, California a very long time ago, back when their comic store was on Cannery Row and not on the third floor of the outlets. I wanted something to read, so my dad bought me the trade paperback of Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, and as soon as I got back to the Holiday Inn that night I read it twice. It was, in a word, “awesome.”
A cool protagonist: a mix of Indiana Jones and Lucifer. A cool origin: summoned by Nazi bad guys for nefarious purposes, but the good ol’ U.S. of A. gets him instead and turns him into a modern day hero for the masses. And cool characters besides Hellboy: the cold Rasputin, the hot and detached Liz, coolly-colored fish guy Abe, and a host of scary frog creatures and Nazi/Rasputin followers thrown in for horror value. Seed of Destruction reads a little tough nowadays, simply because it is a collection of four issues that was trying to introduce Hellboy as a great new character, and you know when you’ve reached the start of an individual issue in the trade because suddenly Hellboy starts recapping everything under the sun for the reader’s benefit, just in case someone had missed the first two issues but decided to pick up the third or fourth. Ignore the glaring expositions like that that pop up, and you’ve got a pretty solid and entertaining introduction to the world of Hellboy. There’s actual superheroes, supernatural hijinks, alien races, a sense of foreboding, the slam-bam ending Rich wanted in Hellboy, and promise for future adventures to come.
It certainly won me over, and I spent the five or six years dedicated to Hellboy. I wore a Hellboy hat (that always got some looks), I collected all the Hellboy stories that followed Seed of Destruction, I eventually got a Hellboy shirt (still fits!), and when I got onto the internet and needed a handle for message boards and stuff, guess what I used? Hellboy! Back then, it was just insider enough to be mysterious and vague to most, but a cool and hip declaration of fannishness to those “in the know.” After a long while, I tired of Hellboy. Mignola’s scripting was great and his art is legendary (all about those shadows!) but Hellboy-overkill mixed with a distaste for where the continuing story of Hellboy was headed (the lone wolf in the fold formula was fine; why take him out of the BPRD over a only-in-comic-books morality play?) soured the whole thing for me. Plus, I had discovered girls a while back but I had finally grown out of my “ugly” phase to reach my semi-mature “semi-ugly” phase, so dating was a real possibility. So long comic book fund, hello fast food dating money!
Meanwhile, they (Wizard, mostly) always talked about Hellboy being turned into a movie. Sure, maybe, but probably not. Then X-Men and Spider-Man hit and showed everyone comic book movies sell, and now it’s just a matter of time before Too Much Coffee Man gets a green light. But we got Hellboy out of it all, so it’s worth it, right? Right? *echo!*
Sort of. I’m with Rich; Hellboy is fun, but a little empty and too formulaic to separate itself from those Sci-Fi Channel made-for-TV movies. There’s charisma in the cast and an obvious dedication to rendering the unique world that springs forth from Mignola’s writing implements, but the story itself is “blah.” The first X-Men film suffers from the same sort of vapid emptiness, which is why I don’t own it and don’t care to, but at least it has impressive and complex implications in Magneto’s schemes and true star power in the cast. Hellboy just runs and hits the high points of the comic book, but Guillermo del Toro seems to think toning down the fun of the action is the best way to emulate the effect of Mignola’s use of darkness on the page, and that ain’t it at all.
Hellboy the comic book is beautiful to look at but somehow also absurdly fun escapism into a world of crumbling castles and supernatural threats, with a big huge protagonist who looks like the devil but is actually a world-wide celebrity who is nigh-indestructible and affably upbeat. Hellboy the film is dark and dank to look at, with a protagonist who is moody and only vaguely-likeable, probably because in the film world he’s considered a “freak” who is only known in the world as an “urban legend” who shows up every so often in tabloid cover stories. That’s the part I don’t like about the film: Hellboy isn’t a celebrity, he’s a monster whose existence is classified. A lot of the fun in the comics is this devil-looking guy in a trenchcoat walking around and barely getting second-glances, because he’s been on the cover of Time and Newsweek. Making him a detached, depressed, and resentful shut-in takes away his freedom to walk among humanity, which then makes it hard to understand why he fights for humanity against the evils of the universe. Eh.
Then again, I’m just a comic book junkie who happens to be a purist when it comes to Hellboy. The film isn’t what I wanted it to be, and I’m glad it exists, I suppose, just so people I’ve talked up Hellboy to can finally know what the hell I was talking about. If you’re interested but not enough to rent the film, don’t worry: it’s good enough and tame enough to get cable play for the rest of our lives.
Justin’s rating: Big Red
Justin’s review: I love a good weird movie. Even in the comic book genre, most film adaptations are fairly predictable in their superhero spandex. So when a movie trots along, stands there looking all serious for a second, then takes out a fish and starts slapping heads like they’re in a Monty Python sketch… that’s when my heart melts. Maybe it’s an esoteric love, but when a film is weird even without a specific purpose, I latch on to it eagerly, hoping it’ll whisk me away from mediocre cinema forever.
Hellboy is no perfect movie, but it’s strangely wonderful despite that. Heck, any movie that starts out with Nazis (“I hate these guys”) trying to summon dark space monster hell demons onto an island off the coast of Scotland — and THEN gets more bizarre — you can’t resist these charms. This particular experiment produces a cute little baby demon that the good forces call “dibs” on, and then proceeds to give him a pistol about the size of my dog to play tote around.
It’s a sort of cross between X-Men and Men In Black, with supernatural mutant oddity and nonsensical plot twists showing up left and right. There’s action, and the getting’s good, but what makes it better is the humor that saturates the whole deal. The filmmakers (and for all I know, the comic book creators) refuse to take a fireproof ex-demon with a huge stone hand too seriously, and decided to have fun with it. One of my favorite laugh out loud moments was when fish boy was about to dive into the dark sewer waters to destroy the immortal monster eggs therein, and he says in a filtered voice, “We lead a charmed life.” It’s not a serious film, which makes it good that no one in the film, even the many many people who die in gruesome ways, take it too seriously.
This is the kind of movie that plays its hand close and carefully; it builds mystery along the way, only revealing a bit here and there as to not spoil everything in the first half hour. Unfortunately, only about half the questions that it bubbled up in my mind got answered. The movie just kind of goes along, does its thing, and leaves loose plot threads like a blind tailor. At one point, Hellboy asks new FBI kid Myers what his specialty was, exactly — why he was called in to this department. Not only does Myers never answer, but the film never answers either. It’s just left up in the air. Why is he there? I was expecting him to show some secret mutant talent, but no such luck. That character is given zero background, and it’s a glaring omission.
Other questions. How did Hellboy and Co. get captured in the sewers? It’s never explained, it just happens in an abrupt scene cut. Why did the movie leave out 1/3rd of its main mutant squad (fishman Abe) for the whole climactic finale? Why do none (save one) of the other FBI guys in the department have any sort of personality whatsoever? Why wasn’t the paranormal department explained more in depth? How can giant C’thulu space monsters make screaming noises in the void of space? And how long does it take to grind down those huge three foot horns, anyway?
But you’ve got to weigh all those quandaries against the cool factors of a talking Russian corpse, an assassin whose innards are filled with dust and mechanics, and Selma Blair incinerating child bullies (and a half city block) with a blue nuclear explosion. Trust me, you’re just not going to see a comic book hero film like Hellboy again any time soon, so take hold of this one and groove away.
By the way, if you have a chance, check out the hand-drawn version of the Hellboy poster. It’s a rarity nowadays that any studio would do a poster like that, but aside from the oddity, it’s an incredibly cool-looking dealie. Reminds me of the Indiana Jones one-sheets.
Lissa’s rating: The world is ending. I agree with Rich.
Lissa’s review: It’s not that I don’t like my fellow Mutant Rich. He seems quite a nice guy — especially if he can forgive me for even suggesting his hometown is in Scotland. (Blame Robert Carlyle. Honest.) But if you haven’t noticed, we don’t often have the same taste in movies. I guess it’s because Rich isn’t much into princesses. But like Kyle said, it’s also nice following Rich, because he’s done all the hard stuff, and says a lot of what I’m thinking about this particular movie. Which is good, because I fell asleep during our first viewing of Hellboy.
Since the release of X-Men, I’ve rather developed a liking for superhero movies. However, I like my superheroes to be more human, gritty, and imperfect. Superman? Booooring. Spiderman? Had some appeal, but… eh. The X-Men? This I can get into. This I like. And knowing this (and after he finally started reading my reviews), Hubby’s Buddy #1 (hereafter termed Duckie’s sidekick, or DS for short) handed us a copy of Hellboy and insisted that he wanted to see a review.
Well, DS, here ya go.
I said I fell asleep during our first viewing. To be fair, I was exhausted — it wasn’t necessarily a sign of my opinion. I actually pretty much liked the movie. But could it have been any more of a rip off? (Duckie used the word “derivative” the other day, and I suppose I should follow suit because it sounds much more impressive. But eh.)
The monster thingies looked straight out of Alien/s/III. Really. I was ready for the spawn to start popping out of people’s stomachs. But I guess there’s only so many ways to make a monster, and maybe the designer of these things had really bad nightmares or something from Aliens. I certainly did, so I can understand that. If that were the only thing, I’d call it homage.
But Hellboy himself… oh, he bugged me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really liked him. But take Logan from the X-Men movies, blow him up, give him horns, and paint him red, and tada! Hellboy. They are the same freaking character, personality wise. I liked Hellboy because I like Logan, and the same things that make Logan an appealing character to me were present in Hellboy. Completely obnoxious, childish, and just… just the kind of person you want to shake, but can’t help but like because he’s funny and a good person at heart.
When I could forget about the Logan/Hellboy similarities, it wasn’t a bad movie. Lots of action, lots of monsters, lots of neat little gizmos and psychic powers. A bit of twisting plottiness and backstory between the characters (although not enough) and some interesting character development (again, not enough) helped matters nicely. There was a romantic subplot that didn’t actually detract from the plotline, and a romantic subplot that sort of did. A nice, solid movie, I guess, from those perspectives. But far from perfect.
I totally agree with Rich about the lack of a big climatic ending scene. Those god things that Hellboy was trying to fight at the end were just bizarre, and I still don’t quite get why Rasputin would want to release them. (Props, though, for the writers acknowledging that evil types can truly be in love. I was very pleased when Rasputin’s blonde chickie said that hell wouldn’t hold any surprises for them, and stood by him as they died together. I’m just a romantic that way, I guess.) But for all that they’re gods of chaos, they really weren’t very scary or anything. Just kind of big and ugly and out of place from the Hogwarts’ lake. I mean, giant squids? Who worships squids? And to top it off, there wasn’t actually a real battle — just some weapon swinging and purple ooze flying every which way. Yawn.
The mutant squad wasn’t quite as appealing to me as the X-Men mutant squad. Not enough in-fighting. Either Abe is incredibly patient, or for some reason he and Hellboy don’t rub against each other enough. There was just no chemistry there. No protectiveness, no anger, no immaturity, no caring, no… anything. I got the impression Abe and Liz genuinely cared about each other, and the Liz/Hellboy romance was actually endearing in the childish way Hellboy approached it, but there was nothing between Hellboy and Abe, and that bugged me. A few wisecracks do not a friendship make.
What frustrated me more than anything is that there were unique elements in Hellboy, and the movie doesn’t take advantage of them. Instead, everything keeps feeling like it has been ripped off from someplace else. And what frustrates me even more is that I’m sounding like I really didn’t like the movie, but I did. It was a fun, relaxed brain candy type of movie. And if that’s all you’re looking for, Hellboy’s worth the rent. But if you want anything more, go see X-Men. Much better movie all around.
- Go go Babe Ruth product placement!
- Hellboy has quite the appetite…
- …and is a killer shot with a thrown rock.
- The Samaritan may be the coolest gun in film history.
- They make such a big deal about Hellboy staying out of the public eye, only for him to have fights in crowded subway stations and along main roads?
- Rasputin’s girlfriend knows a really good plastic surgeon…
- How cool is the Nazi clockwork assassin?
- Hellboy’s creator appears dressed as a knight in a crowd of costumed people menaced by Sammael
- Baby Hellboy, Sammael, Ivan the corpse, and Kroenen were all voiced by Guillermo del Toro.
- When del Toro met with producers many suggestions were made to alter Hellboy, be they character based or story based, one such idea was to have Hellboy be a human who transforms into Hellboy when he gets angry. Another suggestion was that he came from hell but was a normal human, such “suggestions” were quickly shot down by del Toro.
- Upon meeting to discuss the movie, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro decided to reveal to each other their choice for the lead role of Hellboy. They both said at the same time, Ron Perlman.
- The Hellboy movie takes its story from more than one Hellboy comic. The meat of the story comes from the “Seed of Destruction” storyline, but the rest is taken from the “Right Hand of Doom” and “Box Full of Evil” short stories. The movie also contains little homages to other stories such as “The Corpse” and “Pancakes”.
- When Professor Bruttenholm is showing Agent Myers through the BPRD when he first arrives, a greyish male humanoid statue with a large ring on its groin is momentarily seen. This is actually Roger the Homunculus, a supporting character introduced late in the Hellboy comics (in the story arc “Almost Colossus”), who often goes through periods of dormancy; when active, he is a special BPRD agent much like Abe. Roger did not make it into the movie script as a character, but made it into the film as a piece of set decoration instead. Another comic-book prop reference in the same scene is the large set of metal boots sitting in one of the glass display cases. These belonged to a supernatural creature called “The Iron Shoes” from the short story of the same name.
- During Liz’s flashback sequence, an apartment complex named “Mignola Plaza” can be seen in the background. Mike Mignola is the creator of Hellboy.
- When Hellboy says to Myers “What got you this job pushing Pam-cakes?” Pancakes is purposely said wrong referring to a two page story which appears in the “Right Hand of Doom” graphic novel.
- In the hall of antiquities of the Paranormal Research and Defense Facility, you can see one of the jarred babies from The Devil’s Backbone.
- Very early on in the film’s preproduction, the filmmakers considered putting Hellboy’s giant stone hand on his left arm rather than the right, so as to grant the actor playing Hellboy the full use of his right hand. Ron Perlman proved to be left-handed, so the filmmakers were able to preserve the Right Hand of Doom.
- The US soldiers’ unit patches identify them as from the 2nd Infantry Division, the “Indian Head” division. In real life, they were actually defending the town of St Vith, Belgium during the events in the opening scene.
- The Spear of Longinus seen briefly in the movie is an exact replica of the actual Spear (which is in the possession of the Hofsburg Treasure House in Vienna), right down to the golden sheath wrapped around its center.
Hellboy: Didn’t I kill you already?
Abe Sapien: [about his Rubik’s Cube] Three decades… and I’ve only completed two sides.
Hellboy: Cut to the end, will ya? How do I kill it?
Abe Sapien: Hmm, doesn’t say.
Abe Sapien: Remind me why I do this again.
Hellboy: Rotten eggs and the safety of mankind.
Tom Manning: Let me tell you – let me tell you something about the Bureau of…
Television Host: Paranormal Research and Defense.
Tom Manning: …of Paranormal Research and Defense: there is no such thing.
[cut to BPRD headquarters in New Jersey]
Hellboy: [Hellboy grabs Sammael’s tongue] Second date, no tongue!
[Hellboy is going back to confront Behemoth]
John Myers: Are you going to be… okay? Alone?
Hellboy: How big can it be? [A tentacle grabs Hellboy and pulls him back]
Hellboy: I’m fireproof, you’re not.
[Nearby Phone rings as Hellboy fights Sammael]
Hellboy: IT’S FOR YOU! [Hellboy hits Sammuel with the phone]
Hellboy: [Hellboy pummels Sammael] You shouldn’t hurt PEOPLE!
Ivan Klimatovich: [in Russian] If I still had legs, I’d kick your ass!
Hellboy: Look, Sammy, I’m not a very good shot… [holds up his huge revolver] … but the Samaritan here fires really big bullets.
Sgt. Whitman: There are only two things on this island, sheep and rocks.
[Moments later the soldiers find a large Nazi encampment in the ruins]
Professor Trevor: They must be here for the sheep.
Liz Sherman: In the dark I heard your voice, what did you say?
Hellboy: I said, “Hey, you on the other side. Let her go. Cause for her, I’ll cross over, and when that happens you’ll be sorry.”
Hellboy: This is Ivan Klimatovich. Say hello, Ivan.
Ivan Klimatovich: [in Russian] Go that way, Red Monkey!
Professor Trevor: There are things that go bump in the night. And we are the ones who bump back.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Blade II
- The Punisher