Hellboy

Humanity's last best hope against the monsters and mystical malefactors is a muscle-bound, cigar-chomping, cat-loving demon with Oedipal issues and the unlikely name Hellboy (Ron Perlman). On a dark and stormy night in 1944, American GIs led by high-strung British occultist professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) disrupt a ceremony designed...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Humanity's last best hope against the monsters and mystical malefactors is a muscle-bound, cigar-chomping, cat-loving demon with Oedipal issues and the unlikely name Hellboy (Ron Perlman). On a dark and stormy night in 1944, American GIs led by high-strung British occultist professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) disrupt a ceremony designed to open an inter-dimensional portal and jump-start the apocalypse. Who would want to do such a thing? The usual suspects: undead Russian mystic Rasputin (Karel Roden), she-wolf Ilsa (Bridget Hodson), zombie assassin Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) and a scrum of occult-obsessed Nazis. The portal is closed but a little cherry-red demon with an oversized stone arm has already come through; the Yanks dub him "Hellboy" and Broom raises him like a son. In the present day, newly graduated young FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) reports for his first assignment at what appears to be a waste-management facility in Newark, N.J. It's actually the ultra-top-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, run by the aging professor (John Hurt) and manned by the now-grown Hellboy, a psychic merman named Abe Sapiens (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce) and a flock of highly expendable human agents. Another of Broom's talented freaks, conflicted fire-starter Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), recently committed herself to a mental facility, devastating the besotted Hellboy and leaving him in no mood to warm to a new minder, the post Myers has been handed. Summoned to investigate a break-in at the Machen Library, where six guards lie dead and an ancient artifact shattered, Hellboy quickly traces the lingering nasty vibe to a writhing bit of self-replicating grotesquerie summoned up by Rasputin, Ilsa and Kroenen, who are back to finish what they started 60 years earlier. Writer-director Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of the first story cycle in graphic novelist Mike Mignola's Hellboy series is gloomily gorgeous, but its tone careens recklessly between light comedy and dark portentousness and the character relationships suffer. Hellboy's love for the troubled Liz, which should be a heartbreaker, is undermined by his played-for-laughs jealousy of Myers; the yin-yang interplay between fastidious, cultured Abe and hardboiled Hellboy is underdeveloped; and the bond between Hellboy and the professor never feels as intense as it's clearly meant to be. Arguing that you shouldn't expect rich characterization from a comic-book movie misses the point: Vivid relationships separate the graphic novels from the funnies and, in the end, spectacular set design is just window dressing.

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