Red, white, whatever
Hellboy is directed by Guillermo del Toro and stars Ron Perlman as the titular superhero. The film also stars Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, and John Hurt. It is loosely based on the Dark Horse Comics by Mike Mignola.
The late 1990's and early 2000's were a period in which superhero films were all attempting to be as gloomy and no-nonsense as could be, odd because the early 2000's in particular was the beginning of the superhero film renaissance, even though the 2010's are coming along to be something also resembling a superhero renaissance, with Marvel and DC going full throttle with their respective cinematic universes and giving just about every superhero imaginable a modern-day upgrade. Things like hero brooding, depressing story lines, and a lack of fun are certainly not what first come to mind when one thinks of superhero movies, but that was the reality of what superhero films were for a while back then. And while this darker approach towards superhero movies may have been the response to the older consensus that superhero movies had little to no value outside of camp (this does not take into consideration the likes of Tim Burton's Batman movies or Richard Donner's Superman movies, FYI), the results were uneven at best. You had the likes of Spawn, The Punisher, Daredevil, and Blade all perfectly embodying that darker, grittier attitude, despite the fact that the vast majority of those films could be reasonably labeled as bad. And that's not to say all those superhero movies were bad. You had the early 2000's X-Men movies, and then you had Hellboy.
Truth be told, the early 2000's was the perfect time for the likes of Hellboy to be released: A superhero film in which the main character is something of a cross-breed between a human and the devil, taking on paranormal creatures and keeping himself concealed from the public eye. That sounds like a perfect fit alongside the likes of those more somber superheroes mentioned above. However, at the same time, Hellboy is something of an anomaly, because Guillermo Del Toro treats his film with the type of humor and style that the likes of Spawn and Daredevil couldn't even dream of. Del Toro had wanted to make a Hellboy film for many years, but he could never secure the budget nor studio approval to make it happen. Following the success of Blade II, Del Toro was finally given the chance to make a Hellboy movie, and he passed up on Blade: Trinity to make his dream come true. Del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola both agreed that Ron Perlman was the perfect fit to play the superhero, and Del Toro shot down any and all changes that producers suggested to the character.
Thus, Hellboy remained the way that Mike Mignola had originally conceived him, and this leads me to discussing the story. In 1944, the Nazis have developed a dimensional portal that will allow them to open a doorway into deep space, where many paranormal monsters exist. The Nazis intend to free these monsters so that they can assist the Nazis in defeating the Allies. An Allied team, guided by a scientist named Trevor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) who is knowledgeable of what the Nazis are working with, is sent to destroy the portal. Many of the Germans leading the operation are killed, and the portal is destroyed. The Allies discover that a baby demon with a right hand made of stone came through the portal before it was destroyed. Bruttenholm decides to adopt the demon, and the Allies give it the name, "Hellboy".
Sixty years later, the adult Hellboy - who ages at an incredibly slow rate - is now part of what is called the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), and he works alongside an amphibious creature named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voice provided by David Hyde Pierce). The aged Bruttenholm (John Hurt) selects young FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) to be transferred to the BPRD. The third member of the BPRD, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), has checked into a mental hospital and refuses to return, despite several visits from Hellboy. Hellboy and his team work together to combat paranormal threats that still exist in the world. The BPRD are also threatened by the Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), who had survived the portal being destroyed years before.
- Del Toro's eagerness for making this Hellboy film a success shines through with a luminous glow, evident through the film's presentation of the Hellboy character and the film's overall visual display. Hellboy is something of a young boy trapped inside of a grown man's body, sporting a bad temper that impairs his ability to get along properly with Myers. This develops into a love triangle, when Myers starts to connect with Liz and find out more about who she is. Hellboy also has a reckless attitude, frequently overcome by a desire to kill and not let his enemy get away. This is all to reinforce how the boy part of Hellboy is not devoid of any meaning.
- Being an early 2000's superhero movie, it should come as no surprise that Hellboy is largely dominated by night-time scenes as well as murky lighting in a more urban-like setting. This actually helps Hellboy stand out, because how could a bright red devil creature not stand out when everything around him is dark and bereft of bright colors? This is a rare instance in which a gloomy setting actually enhances its main character, particularly one that is a superhero.
- Also worthy of discussion is just how funny that Hellboy is. And no, this is not at all similar to the kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude that Marvel puts into too many of their films. The action and energy in Hellboy are never brought down by eye roll-inducing one liners nor a string of lame jokes. Any and all one-liners and basic jokes are thoughtful products of the types of situations that the characters are put in; lines that actually keep the story going and are not just there for the sake of having a character pause whatever they're doing and say a joke. My favorite one was when Hellboy says something when he helps Myers avoid getting hit by a car while the two are chasing a creature (No, I'm not going to spoil it! Watch the movie and see for yourself!).
- One thing that Hellboy definitely lacks is a memorable and noteworthy villain. Rasputin is pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of motivations and doesn't possess any kind of interesting gimmick that would have me thinking about him well after the credits are over. The most interesting thing about the villains in this movie are the Sammael creatures that Hellboy combats several times. Two Sammael creatures take the place of each one that Hellboy kills. I think the movie could have taken a fascinating turn if the Sammael creatures were the primary villain, because then the movie would resemble Hellboy and his team trying to combat a virus that grows much faster than it can be destroyed.
The last thing I'll say about Hellboy being an early 2000's superhero films is that fact that it is proof that when you throw enough punches, you're bound to get a hit sooner or later. In a period where there were plenty of superhero misses, Hellboy was a surefire hit. Packed with plenty of appropriately dark visuals, high octane action, and humor, Hellboy succeeds in just about every way it needed to.
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