This ‘boy’ is hotter than ‘Hell’

Ted Pigeon

I’m always skeptical when venturing to see a film based on a comic book. There have been so many of them over the past few years, but not many of them were especially good. The “X-Men” films had their moments, the final two “Batman” movies were dismal, and “Spiderman” was merely average. Nevertheless, it made $400 million at the box office, and because of its huge success, we’ve been seeing an increasing number of movies based on comics at the multiplexes.

But because of directors like Guillermo Del Toro, there remains hope. In the hands of any other director, a movie like “Hellboy” could have been a miserable failure, but not with Del Toro at the helm. Instead he made a fine film that’s loaded with great action and oozing with atmosphere.

On top of that, Del Toro provides a well-paced story and characters with dimension to go along with it. There’s no doubt that “Hellboy” is one of the best movies based on a comic book in a very long time.

The story of “Hellboy” actually starts in 1944 during the last days of World War II, a time when Hitler was obsessed with the occult (as the Feds in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” said). In the film’s opening scene, a man named Grigori Rasputin aids the Nazis and attempts to open a portal into the cosmic void and to bring to Earth a creature that will bring about Armageddon. But the mission is intercepted by American soldiers, under the guidance of the young Professor Broom, founder of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. The creature comes through and is befriended by Broom and is appropriately named Hellboy due to his devil-like appearance. Over the next 60 years, Broom (John Hurt) raises Hellboy (Ron Perlman) as a father and trains him to fight for good rather than evil.

Hellboy’s partners include Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a fish-man that can see into the past and future and Liz Shermann (Selma Blair), a woman who gives new meaning to the term “firestarter.” Along with the help of the now aged Prof. Bloom and his young protege John Myers (Rupert Evans), “Hellboy” and his fellow freaks have to once again answer the threat of the madman Rasputin, who has returned once again, and, like all madmen, yearns for the destruction of Earth.

The basic story isn’t all that interesting, and Del Toro recognizes this. He knows that what are essentially more important than the story in these kinds of movies are the characters and the style in which the story is told.

And those two aspects are what the film is focuses on.

What gives the film an extra dimension isn’t just the fact that it’s structured so well, but that it gives us characters with surprising depth. Ron Perlman’s Hellboy is a cocky hero always ready to for a sarcastic remark, but as the film goes we learn there’s more to him than what he presents. He is in love with Sherman, but has trouble expressing his feelings due to his appearance. He also deeply loves Prof. Broom, whom he treats as a father in every right. Like any son, he doesn’t always show his father the appreciation and admiration he has for him, but it’s there. The film sets up a number of interesting relationships, but the two that are the most interesting are Hellboy’s relationships with Liz Sherman and Professor Broom.

Regarding atmosphere, this movie is overflowing with it. Del Toro’s lighting is colorful and moody, giving all the sets a unique life beyond their physical detail. Combined with Del Toro’s shot design, it contributes to the truly unique world is set up for the characters to inhabit. While the main villains may not be very intriguing, their minions sure are.

The creatures that Hellboy battles throughout the film are truly brilliant creations – slimy, unrelenting, and utterly ferocious beasts that when killed spawn two more. The creatures are fluid in their movement and have weight, even though they were created on a computer. These fell beasts make for a few very inventive action sequences, which the film has plenty of.

As far as the rest of the special effects go, Del Toro uses everything including CGI, miniatures and matte paintings to perfection. Another noteworthy aspect of the production is Marco Beltrami’s score, which is tender when it needs to be and full-bodied when the film calls for it to be.

His music effectively adds to the drama and action without intruding on it, and it’s yet another element that adds to the great mood and atmosphere this film provides.

“Hellboy” could have easily been just another mediocre selection in the long list of dull comic book-inspired films in the past few years. But Del Toro is too talented and too in love with the material to let that happen, which is why this movie is instead a wonderful achievement in the realm of comic book movie adaptations. It is the work of supreme craftsmanship from a very gifted filmmaker that was clearly dedicated to making a good movie in a genre that seems so devoid of creativity these days. “Hellboy” is one hell of a ride.