Hellboy (2004)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Synopsis & Analysis
Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy is not a bad film, but it is not inspired either.

Graphic novels and comics obviously share many characteristics with films. The two media are perhaps more akin to one another than either is to any other art form, but, for reasons unknown to me, outside of Japan, there have been very few successful transfers of material from one to the other. The only accomplished non-Japanese instances that come to my mind are Tim Burton's two Batman films and, at least visually, Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. Most other transfers of "comics" to film owe very little to the original art, taking with them characters and narratives but few, if any, visual elements. Hellboy falls into this category.

Fortunately, while the story of Hellboy is that of the standard misunderstood superhero fighting a supervillain, it is enlivened by a number of quirky details. For one thing, the villain is none other than Rasputin, transformed here into a resurrected, castrated Nazi collaborator. He is hardly the movie's only oddity, however. Much of the background of the protagonists' struggle against him is, for instance, casually developed in a number of truly amusing lines, such as that referring to Hitler's death in 1958 as being the end of the "occult wars" fought against him by the United States. The list of such peculiarities, happily, does go on and even includes the film's heroes.

Hellboy himself, played with gusto by Ron Perlman, is a demon brought as a baby to our world by Rasputin during the Second World War in order to bring about the Apocalypse, but who was, instead, raised by the American government to fight occult menaces to national security. At the time of the movie's central story, he lives in a secret government installation with a telepathic fish man and a girl with pyrokinesis, with whom he is in love.

Such eccentric, humorous elements do give the film a sort of strange charm, but they stand out by their difference from the other aspects of Hellboy, which are generally banal. The movie's narrative, for instance, is utterly forgettable. Basically, the story amounts to Rasputin's return, Hellboy's efforts to stop him, and the latter's attempts to win the heart of the girl with whom he is smitten. Of course, the hero wins in the end, and no viewer will be particularly surprised by any part of the narrative built upon the weird and intriguing conceits mentioned above.

Hellboy is essentially a B-movie, but it is a well made B-movie. Perhaps more entertaining than either of the Spiderman movies, and certainly better than any of the Superman films or Joel Schumacher's contributions to the Batman franchise, Hellboy is an enjoyable work. It simply is not more than that.

Review by Keith Allen

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