Hellboy review – an original and brilliantly made comic book movie
‘A demon born in Hell decides he wants to do good and protect mankind from evil.’
In honour of his newest and triumphant film, The Shape of Water, why not enjoy one of Guillermo del Toro’s earlier movie’s, which similarly is about an outcast monster. Hellboy, which came out in 2004, is based on Mike Mignola’s graphic novel Seed of Destruction (1994), and tells the story of a demon who is accidentally summoned to our world. Although more a standard blockbuster, it was one of the first films that showcased del Toro’s visual flare, love for the fantastical, and preference over practical effects where possible.
Discovered by Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt), Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is raised to fight otherworldly threats for the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence). Aided by fish-man Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and pyro-kinetic love interest Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), they must thwart evil ocultist Grigori Efimovich Rasputin (Karel Roden), and stop him from starting the apocalypse.
Despite coming out in the early days of this current era of superhero films, which still shows no sign of slowing down, Hellboy still feels just as fresh and original as it did back in 2004. A lot of that has to do with del Toro’s direction and grasp of the source material. Indeed, this graphic novel about gods and monsters is perfectly suited to his sensibilities. Writing the screenplay himself, he also shows a great love for this character, and understands what drives him.
This is a story about a creature who was born to destroy, but chooses to do good, protecting mankind instead of eradicate them, and with that is a compelling and conflicted hero to follow. He’s someone who so badly wants to fit in, and yet can’t, drawing on our sympathies and making him quite a tragic figure as well.
Being a more mainstream movie, it’s a good introduction to del Toro for the uninitiated. It has all the hallmarks of one of his films, but feels very accessible for the average viewer. Ultimately, this is an entertaining fantasy-adventure with plenty of action and a pace that zips along at full speed, rarely slowing down. likewise, there’s a levity injected into the tone that never undercuts the darker aspects of the story, proving del Toro is capable of making a more conventional movie while still putting his stamp on it.
Visually, this is a good-looking movie, with very detailed practical sets and not a green screen in sight. bringing an old-school aesthetic to some of the set pieces, this presents a really solid world for us to buy into. Furthermore, for a comic book movie, the cinematography is excellent, and the way del Toro frames some of the scenes is exquisite, showing a real artist at work. For example, a rain-drenched opening in church ruins creates an ominous and gothic mood, and the way disfigured henchman Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) is cleverly hidden just outside our view, makes him that more terrifying. These scenes are all elevated due to del Toro’s keen eye on how to get the most out of a shot, and infuse it with style.
When it comes to the action sequences, these are fun and exciting scenes, which showcase the variety of abilities between these monsters really well. Yes, the CGI does look a bit dated now, but due to del Toro’s commitment in using practical effects as much as possible, they all look brilliant. By not relying on digital effects, a lot of these set pieces still hold up against some of the contemporary superhero one’s. Having that physical aspect in the action, makes it that more tangible and personal, where you can almost feel the blows between these very real creations.
To go along with this immersive world are engaging characters, who are all perfectly cast. Perlman was tailor made for this role, and he gets the look and mannerism of this blue collar hero to a tee. He has a great imposing presence, which is only enhanced by the full body prosthetics. What’s more, he does a solid job in emoting through all that make-up, and has a great chemistry with Blair’s love interest. Stranger Things star David Harbour certainly has big shoes to fill in next year’s reboot.
Jones equally impresses as Abe, bringing an amazing physical performance as the telepathic fish-man. Again, with an awesome practical costume, he gives us a taste of what he would achieve fourteen years later in The Shape of Water. If there’s one weakness, it’s that the main villain isn’t given the same amount of time in fleshing him out. Roden is creepy and sinister, but at the end of the day, his character is written as just another antagonist who wants to either conquer or destroy the world, with very little depth added to him.
‘Hellboy is an excellent comic book adaptation, that would ultimately pave the way and widen the appeal for his more personal films. A typical action fantasy maybe, but with enough of his signature style to make it a movie only he could do. With a decent story, fantastical action, and an emphasis on a character who doesn’t quite fit in, if your unfamiliar with del Toro’s work, Hellboy is a good place to start.’
David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.
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