Should I Watch..? 'Hellboy' (2004)
What's the big deal?
Hellboy is a fantasy superhero film released in 2004 and is based on the Dark Horse Comics character of the same name created by Mike Mignola. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film focuses on a secret US Government agency tasked with protecting society from otherworldly threats, mainly through the efforts of part-demon, part-man Hellboy and his aquatic acquaintance Abe. The film stars Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt, Rupert Evans, Jeffrey Tambor and Karel Roden. The film was a hit with critics with many praising del Toro's direction and Perlman's performance. However, the film was only a mild success at the box office due to the film's budget, with global earnings just over $99 million. It was followed by a sequel in 2008 - The Golden Army - before a scheduled reboot currently in production and due for release in 2019.
What's it about?
In 1944, a small number of Hitler's troops are in the process of opening a portal to summon a vast evil to help with the war effort. Led by Grigori Rasputin, the portal is indeed opened thanks to his accomplices Ilsa Von Haupstein and Hitler's top assassin, the masked Karl Kroenen. However, Allied troops assisted by scientist Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm arrive in the nick of time to stop the Nazis from achieving their aim. The only thing that emerges from the portal is a tiny red demon that Bruttenholm takes under his wing, calling him Hellboy.
Sixty years later and Bruttenholm is the head of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD), a classified Government agency tasked with defending mankind from anything out-of-this-world. Hellboy (now a fully grown demon, albeit one who regularly grinds his horns down to fit in) is an operative of the BPRD alongside Abe Sapien, an aquatic fish-hybrid with some psychic ability. After a mysterious creature kills a number of personnel at a museum, Hellboy and Abe are dispatched by FBI Director Tom Manning along with Bruttenholm and rookie FBI agent John Myers to investigate...
Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm
Agent John Myers
Director Tom Manning
Karl Ruprecht Kroenen
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro*
Release Date (UK)
2nd September, 2004
Action, Fantasy, Horror, Superhero
What's to like?
Despite the unusualness of its central premise and characters, Hellboy is an easy film to get on board with. Part of this is due to the film's astonishing visuals and makeup with outlandish characters appearing every bit as believable as the regular human cast. Credit must also go to the actors beneath the prosthetics - Jones does a great job of bringing Abe to life together with Pierce's uncredited voice-over but Perlman is faultless as Hellboy. With his whipping tail, one-liners and impressive six-shooter, the character looks every bit the bad-ass you imagine him to be and the movement he maintains during action scenes is incredible.
The other part of the film's believability is the narrative which homes in on the well-publicised fascination the Nazis had in the occult - and then sprints wildly off in that direction, taking things to the extreme. Roden gives Rasputin a dangerous air about him, seemingly walking straight out of shadows, but his overall plan isn't that complicated. Nazis summoning demi-gods of evil seems positively normal compared to the oddness of the heroes so this also helps you to invest in the film. But the star is Perlman, finally being given the limelight and making the most of his opportunity. He's just too likeable a character, a stone-fisted demon capable of dealing (and taking) a great deal of punishment but then finds himself pouring his heart out to a nine-year-old about his feelings for Sherman.
- Pierce refused a credit for his vocal performance because he felt that Abe was solely the result of Jones' performance and he didn't want to detract attention. He also declined to reprise the role for the sequel, meaning Jones voiced the character instead.
- Director del Toro had voice cameos as the baby Hellboy seen in the prologue, Sammael (the disgusted beast in the museum), Ivan the corpse, Kroenen and one of the train drivers!
- Perlman's makeup took four hours to apply and the only part of his actual body visible afterwards were his eyelids. But he had it easy - Jones' took between five and seven hours to apply and three hours to remove. On occasions, some of the makeup stayed on overnight to make it easier to apply the next day.
- Perlman underwent the four-hour makeup application once again in 2012 alongside the Make-A-Wish Foundation, granting the wish of six-year-old Zachary who was suffering from leukemia who wanted to hang out with Hellboy.
What's not to like?
Most of the time, exposition isn't required for comic book characters because most of us will be familiar with them already. Everybody knows the backstory of Spider-Man or Batman but Hellboy is a bit more obscure so unless you're a long-time fan, most of these characters won't be as fully developed as you might wish. This is especially true of Sherman whose pyrokinetic abilities and complicated history with Hellboy are largely left unexplained, as are the weird balls of light that appear and diverge whenever the Sammael beasts are killed. If only the film's imaginative visuals left some time for exposition.
The only other thing that bugged me were occasional lapses in the quality of the CG. The huge tentacled beasts and Sammael monsters certainly look awesome (if a bit too Lovecraftian, if that's a word) but whenever the film required Hellboy to get knocked into some breakable part of the set, the effects suddenly seemed to desert the film with actors crudely pulled across the floor on wires or CG not able to recreate Perlman's Hellboy and his trench-coat. Apart from wondering how the FBI were able to deny the existence of Hellboy despite the huge amount of carnage and exposure he creates, I can't think of anything else that soured my opinion. Frankly, I was having too much fun.
Should I watch it?
Hellboy is a perfect antidote to the avalanche of Marvel and DC films swarming cinemas at the world. It's different and almost unique in terms of visuals and narrative but more than that, it's a thoroughly entertaining film in its own right. Perlman is superb in the lead and supporting by amazing detail and solid supporting cast, this is one film that is devilishly good fun.
Great For: fans of the comics, Perlman's career, anyone sick of superhero films
Not So Great For: anyone expecting the comic's levels of violence and gore, young children, historians
What else should I watch?
Now that I've finally watched Hellboy, it now means I can go and watch Hellboy II: The Golden Army which is apparently even better, although it's a bit lighter in terms of tone and style. Watching this first film reminded me of Marvel's left-field entry in the world of superhero flicks, the otherworldly sci-fi franchise Guardians Of The Galaxy which still feels different from another other Marvel cinematic franchise you could name. And like Hellboy, it's an amazing ride through pop-culture references and unforgettable and unusual characters. Come on, how can you not be intrigued by a giant talking tree and his trigger-happy raccoon buddy?
Guillermo del Toro has become one of the most successful Mexican directors currently working and his fascination with the Gothic and the macabre is part of what makes his films stand out. His greatest work has brought him great success on the awards front - his Spanish-language fantasy Pan's Labyrinth earned him a Best Director Oscar while his recent romantic fantasy The Shape Of Water finally got him a Best Film gong from the Academy. Other films of his worth watching include the Spanish-language ghost story The Devil's Backbone and the mech-inspired giant monster movie Pacific Rim.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox