Relentlessly average comic book adaptation, hampered by poor villain choice.
It's taken a while for Del Toros' latest comic book adaptation to arrive on blighty's shores, if the rumour mill is to be believed because it simply wasn't up to scratch against the big name releases of the summer. Having now suffered through the bulk of them I'm not sure the above is strictly accurate. Certainly it's not in the same league as Spiderman 2, but nothing else was either.
With so many comic book adaptations doing the rounds we're getting into fairly obscure territory, this joining The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen as pop culture moments that have passed me by. At any rate, what we have here is a straight forward tale of an evil clockwork Nazi and Rasputin trying to open a portal to free some Gods of Chaos to destroy the world. They certainly don't do things in half measures, these nefarious ne'erdowells. Why do these bad guys always want to destroy the world? What use would it be to them then?
Thankfully, we have some protection. The Bureau of Paranormal Investigation is the governmental branch Fox Mulder was searching in vain for, contents one Hellboy and assorted other freaks. Abe Sapian (Doug Jones) is a blue psychic fish man, for want of a better term. Liz (Selma Blair) is a girl with the ability to create fire with the power of her mind, and Myers (Rupert Evans) is a boy with a gun. As new boy to the party, Agent Myers acts as an expositionary linking device which is almost redundant given that it's a fairly straightforward tale of evil doers and their squid dog helldog henchmen being stopped by a big red guy with a huge fist and a silly gun.
There's not really a great deal wrong with the individual elements of Hellboy as such, it's just that when combined they don't work as well as we might have hoped. A couple of reasons spring to mind. Firstly the lead bad guys have the charisma of a Tory party conference, the same crime and in the case of Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) the same culprit that stopped fellow obscure comic book adaptation Bulletproof Monk. While this makes it a shade difficult to care about their eventual and inevitable defeat, there's something a little more critical wrong.
You probably wouldn't rate Ron Pearlman among the best actors of all time but there are surely worse choices out there for the big red dude and working with Del Toro on Blade 2 couldn't have hurt matters. The character has great potential and several emotional story arcs, and this is exactly the quality that propelled the Spiderman and X-Men franchises into the 'something special' category. Sadly the same thing that sets Hellboy apart from most traditional superheroes, his demonic appearance, is the same thing that ultimately limits him. As Sir Disko so correctly points out, Pearlman is under so many layers of latex prosthetics that his facial expression and hence emotional range is limited purely to 'disgruntled and red'. This kind of thing wouldn't have been an issue in, say, Commando, but in a film that's trying to have some emotional reasons to buy into Hellboy's struggles not being able to fully utilise it comes as a great pity.
As for the action sequences, well, they're alright. We're back into CG monster vs CG hero territory, which for us at least instantly limits its appeal. The character designs don't help much, the fearsome hellhound looking like some unholy Dr. Moreau-esque squid dog hybrid that's just a little too odd-looking too be effective. At least it's a better idea than a wind up Nazi, a particularly unsuccessful Christmas toy idea seemingly modelled on Soul Calibur's Voldo.
At heart you can almost taste the hope that this could become a franchise to rival X-Men, to the extent of the graphic designs seen in the trailer text quite clearly aping Singer's opus(es). It's not going to work, because everyone apart from the big red chap in this flick is at best under utilised or at worst superfluous. Abe seems to use his psychic powers to state the bleeding obvious and you'd think a woman with the ability to create fire from nothing would be used as something a little more interesting than a damsel in distress. The X-Men always seemed like a squad working with a common purpose, the Bureau and its employees (special or otherwise) here seems to serve little purpose other than holding Hellboy's metaphorical jacket and some idle inter-crisis chit chat. Which wouldn't be that much of a problem if they weren't as heavily featured as they are, perhaps in the hope of getting the character development over with here rather than the now surprisingly confirmed sequel.
Flawed up the wazoo as Hellboy undoubtedly is, it's difficult to get too riled up about it given the level of competition it's facing in the multiplex arena. If nothing else it's trying to be fun at the same time as trying to be spectacular, hindered only by the aforementioned flaws. Much of the dialogue and asides are quite sharply written, and it's only Pearlman's prosthetics getting in the way of their delivery. There are certainly far more inept movies you could end up seeing this year. In fact, there are far more inept comic book based flicks you could see (cough Catwoman cough), but whether enough will take this red devil to heart to warrant the strived for sequel is now in your hands really. For our money however, Hellboy falls quite a ways short of the requirements for greatness and even the requirements for memorability.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
John Hurt (Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm)
Selma Blair (Liz Sherman)
Rupert Evans (John Myers)
Karel Roden (Grigori)
Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning)
Doug Jones (Abe Sapien)