Hellboy (2004)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

I watched Hellboy a few days ago and as I sit here trying to write a few things about it I find, for the life of me, I can’t remember much of the film. And I think that pretty well sums this movie up, at least for me.

Hellboy is a good and engaging movie, in its way, but forgettable. With one exception: Ron Perlman. His performance is so good you feel a bit dismayed that it’s spent on what is essentially a silly movie.

The story starts with World War II Nazis. Led by a masked, knife afficionado, they’ve enlisted some kind of wizard type of guy to open a portal to another dimension – Hell, presumably – in order to unleash … well, bad stuff. Evil, I suppose.

They are interrupted by the Allies and their intelligence man, Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm (John Hurt). While they stop the Nazis, they don’t quite prevent the portal from opening, and something comes through. That something is a cute and cuddly demon infant.

But the demon proves not to be so demonic since he is raised by Broom. He ends up being a force for good, a fighter of demons, though with a hard-edged personality. He is Hellboy (Perlman).

The story from here on in is about the return of those Nazi characters (who didn’t happen to die in the original spat) and their attempts to catch Hellboy and use him to fulfill his destiny, which is something like ushering in Armageddon or other disagreeable event.

The movie is sort of interesting in its first part, flags a bit in the middle, then becomes bit more interesting in its final third. So, it’s a bit uneven. As often happens in movies such as this, the most compelling scenes are not the action ones (though these are creditably done) but in the character moments, especially those involving Perlman as Hellboy.

Perlman is so dry and deadpan, it’s a marvel. He plays his Hellboy as a wounded man who uses dry sarcasm as a defense. The character is informed by a repressed rage that gets unleashed in the action scenes yet otherwise simmers below the surface. And within the world of the story, it makes perfect sense.

Selma Blair also gives a good performance as she finally gets to play a character other than a sex-obsessed slut, the equally wounded and defensive Liz Sherman. Like Hellboy, she’s an outsider because just as he is different (in his appearance and by his powers), she is different due to her fire generating power. (Hellboy serendipitously is fire proof.)

This is a fairly common motif in these kinds of films, one that appeals to a teen audience – the outsider, the one treated unfairly, who doesn’t fit in because something about him or her is “different.” It’s the foundation of the X-Men movies.

At its core, Hellboy really is a silly movie – a silly concept stretched into a full length film. However, if you can get past this it is quite entertaining both on the level of an action movie with lots of things blowing up, and from the point of view of Perlman’s wonderful Hellboy performance.

With comic based movies like this one, some people might ask, “Who dreams up this stuff?’ I would ask, “Who would want to?”

But then, there was a time I probably would have wanted to. But I was quite a bit younger then. I guess I’ve turned into an old crank.

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