Review: Hellboy (2004)





Guillermo Del Toro


Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Briggs


122 min.


Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Brian Steele, Ladislav Beran, Bridget Hodson

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and frightening images.

Buy/Rent Movie


Source Material


Before Pan’s Labyrinth was an Oscar hit, Guillermo Del Toro was a minor horror film director whose films Mimic and Blade II were hardly commercial hits, but when he breezed onto the big screen with Hellboy, things began to look differently.

With Hellboy, the landscape of superhero films was forever changed. Whereas most of the film’s contemporaries were injecting humor into serious plot lines, Hellboy simply blended it in without making it seem like an opportunity to please the audience.

The story surrounds a demon discovered as a child at the site of a secret Nazi paranormal site. There, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) had joined the U.S. military to investigate the site and when they discovered the baby demon, he decided to take him home and raise him as if he were a normal human child. However, he was not and thus was sequestered in the halls of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.

As an adult, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is the most powerful and successful weapon in the Bureau’s arsenal to deal with the dangerous paranormal critters threatening the world. However, this little joy isn’t his only. He also enjoys thwarting the rules and regulations of the bureau and dodging out into the world to see what people are doing.

The man who helped summon him into the world, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), now sets his sights on completing his scheme of bringing a space-faring entity to earth to lay waste to it and deliver him great power. His plans wind through the film bringing Hellboy and his compatriots on a collision course with his destiny.

This is one of the screenplay’s strengths. It doesn’t rely solely on one battle after another leading the lead character on a collision course with destiny; the entire film surrounds his destiny. Del Toro’s imagination is strong and thanks to the comic book’s richly detailed characters, he is able to create a credible universe wherein the supernatural and the natural exist side by side.

Perlman’s performance is strong and it seems like a part he was born to play. He also demonstrates his ability to present a range of emotions, as this character is far cry from the rage-filled but docile and loving Beast in the TV series Beauty and the Beast. There are certainly similarities, but Perlman makes the two characters diverse enough to avoid strong comparison.

Veteran actor Hurt doesn’t give us anything startlingly original, but he’s an amiable presence, as he has been in many other films, which only helps to help the audience like him. Selma Blair, who plays Hellboy’s love interest Liz Sherman, is better than expected, but not nearly up to par with Perlman. Doug Jones, whose face is completely obliterated by makeup (unlike Perlman whose facial features are still noticeable), gives a solid, though not spectacular performance as Abe Sapien, a strange aquatic creature who can use all six of his senses through his talented hands.

Roden spends so little time on screen, that it’s difficult to really get a grasp on his character, mostly he’s just a menacing villain with very little depth. Also lacking depth, but not charm is Rupert Evans as Hellboy’s new handler John Myers. It’s difficult to stand up to Perlman’s acting strength, but Evans does his best and creates a solid, though interchangeable character. Jeffrey Tambor whose television work is significant brings his characteristic dismalness to the roll of Tom Manning, a public relations director for the government assigned specifically to the bureau and wrangling the events therein.

Hellboy has proven that humor doesn’t have to be pointless, derivative merriment thrown in just to make the audience laugh. It can be situational or emotional without being obvious. It’s the film’s biggest asset. And even though the film features a number of flaws, including an ending that feels rushed and a number of seemingly unnecessary scenes, the film stands strongly in the genre and makes for a compelling alternative to the standard.

Review Written

July 18, 2008

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