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Posts Tagged ‘Selma Blair’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 9th 2004:

The seemingly implacable advance of the comic-book adaptation continues. Things have now got to the stage where it isn’t just Marvel and DC who are invading the multiplexes, even smaller outfits like Dark Horse are muscling in on the act. To be fair to them, Dark Horse have some form when it comes to the big screen, but their track record is wildly variable – The Mask and Barb Wire were both based on their characters. (They also dreamt up the concept behind Alien Vs Predator.) The company is on much more solid ground with Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy.

The film opens in 1944 with an Allied taskforce discovering Nazi occultists up to no good off the Scottish coast. They intend to open a portal and awake the sleeping Chaos Gods, and thus trigger the apocalypse. But the plot is foiled and leading cultist Rasputin (Karel Rodan) is sucked up his own vortex. But something has already slipped through into our world – a baby demon, red of hue and mild of temperament, whom the Allies’ occult advisor adopts and christens Hellboy…

Sixty years on and the now-grown Hellboy (a terrific performance by Ron Perlman) is a secret operative for the FBI, busting supernatural ass with the aid of his foster-father Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and psychic fish-man Abe Sapien (voiced by David Hyde Pierce). He also has a bit of a thing for troubled human bonfire Liz (Selma Blair). But more important matters are afoot as Rasputin has returned from the dimension he was banished to and he and his cronies are still terribly keen on bringing about the end of the world – a plan to which Hellboy is central…

If Stan Lee and HP Lovecraft went on a date to see the Indiana Jones trilogy and then got their dirty freak on and the unnatural union was somehow fertile, I’m sure the offspring would look very much like this movie. (This is supposed to be praise, by the way.) Even by the soaring standards of the modern comic adaptation Hellboy is great stuff. It’s pacy, funny, visually striking and is stuffed with fine performances.

Chief amongst these is that of Ron Perlman, a familiar name to fans of SF and fantasy films. Not really a familiar face, however, as he seems to have spent roughly half of his entire life in prosthetic make-up in films and TV shows like Beauty and the Beast, Star Trek: Insurrection, and The Name of the Rose. Is it engaging in needless hyperbole to suggest that his entire career has been leading up to this point? Well, maybe, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing Hellboy better than he does here. He takes a fairly ridiculous character and gives him depth and charm and subtlety, while still looking the part in the gleefully destructive action sequences which pepper the movie. The fact that the Hellboy make-up manages to be true to the comic and yet still quite credible, even in broad daylight, is a big help to him. But Hurt is also on sparkling form and Blair is likeable, as is Rupert Evans as a rookie FBI agent assigned to the department.

What’s also really impressive about this film is the way that del Toro chooses to take his time and concentrate on characterisation and relationships instead of just rattling the plot from one super-powered barney to the next. There’s an urbanely off-the-wall sense of humour that permeates much of the film, manifesting as Hellboy’s unexpected soft-spot for cats or habit of idly grinding down his horns with power-tools in order to be less conspicuous. But the feelings between the main characters are genuine and affecting. Del Toro’s action sequences don’t have quite the same level of breathless frenzy he brought to Blade 2, but are suitably protracted and over-the-top.

However, if I had to make a criticism of this movie, it’s that the emphasis on character and humour means that the actual plot suffers somewhat. This really isn’t a problem as the leads are so likeable you stick with the film regardless, but there are quite a few plot-threads left dangling or unexplained: why Rasputin’s girlfriend doesn’t age a day in sixty years, for example. [I was taken to task over this, as it is apparently explained in the movie, albeit in a very casual and easy-to-overlook fashion. – A]¬†And, like Spider-Man 2, it’s a slight shame that a film that makes a virtue of not being just another empty-headed blockbuster has as its climax a fairly routine CGI set-piece.

This is quibbling, of course. Hellboy doesn’t take itself remotely seriously and neither should you. But if you like the pulpiest of pulp fiction, unusual heroes, inventively horrible villains, jokes, ooze, and just a dash of romance, then this is the film for you. Great fun.

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