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Hellboy (2004)

Super Sapiens

Give Evil Hell

Directed by:

Guillermo del Toro

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 122 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

Country: United States

Near the end of the Second World War, young Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) and a troop of American soldiers interrupt an attempt by a team of Nazi occultists, led by Grigory Rasputin (Karel Roden), to summon the seven Gods of Chaos to earth – but the portal is opened long enough for a baby demon to be spawned, dubbed Hellboy, and adopted as a son by Bruttenholm.

Sixty years later, Bruttenholm (John Hurt) heads the Bureau for Paranormal Defense to combat demons and supernatural threats. If red-skinned badboy Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is the team’s muscle, then foundling merman Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) – think C3PO with fins and psychic powers – is the brains, while sometime member Liz (Selma Blair), who can barely control her explosive psychokinetic powers, provides the angst (and keeps Hellboy’s heart warm). They must save the world from a resurrected Rasputin who, with the help of his Nazi companions and the monstrous hound Sammael, is hellbent on luring Hellboy back over to the other side.

Based on the sporadically appearing comicbook series by Mike Mignola, ‘Hellboy’ is the latest in a run of ensemble superhero adaptations. As in the X-Men’ franchise, the team here is headed by an aging Brit, and as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘, a blandly wholesome all-American type (here played by newcomer Rupert Evans, who is in fact British, ironically enough) has been invented solely to give viewers a neutral introduction to the film’s far more interesting freaks, and is then left to hang around for the remaining duration with little to do but bear witness to the events around him.

Still, there are two things which make ‘Hellboy’ stand out from the competition. The first is the idiosyncratic vision of its director (and co-writer) Guillermo del Toro, whose trademark obsessions with insects, mutation and baroque clockwork mechanisms, already seen in earlier films like ‘Cronos’, ‘Mimic’ and ‘Blade 2’, are employed once again to memorable effect. Second is the fascinatingly contradictory character of Hellboy himself – born to be bad but brought up in the cause of good – a cigar-smoking slob addicted to a diet of junkfood, but also dedicated to service and duty – a giant wise-cracking alpha male, but also just a big kid, awkward in love and desperate to please daddy. Thanks to his striking appearance and large facial features, Ron Perlman (a regular in del Toro’s films since ‘Cronos’, but probably best known as the Beast in TV’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’) may be doomed for all eternity to play monsters – but he is also a very talented actor, and in ‘Hellboy’, if it is the devil who gets all the best lines, it is Perlman who gives them their perfect delivery.

The film is not without its faults. It is overlong; its villains, for all the impressiveness of their visual realisation (especially the sword-wielding Nazi wind-up fetishist Kroenen, played by Ladislav Beran), have little character (Kroenen does not even speak); and Liz is sketched so thinly that it is difficult to empathise with Hellboy’s crush on her, despite its importance to the plot. Yet it is a fantastic-looking romp, finding just the right balance between action and laughs – and it is not every day that you get to see a demon cast as a Christ figure.

It's Got: Devils, monsters and mad monks; a giant red-skinned demon who files down his horns "to fit in"; a very big gun; a gasmask-wearing clockwork Nazi with a fetish for surgery; and a world - not to mention a boxful of kittens - that needs saving.

It Needs: For the other characters to be as well realised as Hellboy himself.

Summary

This good-looking superhero adventure tackles all of life's big questions – what is the nature of evil, are genes more influential than the environment, and who would win in a fight between a shaven-horned demon and a giant hellborn squid.

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