Superhero Month: "Hellboy" Review

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As dark forces gather to hasten the Apocalypse, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) fights fire with fire in this mind-blasting supernatural action-adventure from the visionary director of Blade 2. Based on the celebrated Dark Horse comic book.
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Superhero Month: "Hellboy" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (violence and frightening images)
Length: 122 minutes
Release Date: April 2, 2004
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Genre: Action/Fantasy/Adventure

Director Guillermo del Toro brings an innovative and imaginative approach to 2004's "Hellboy." Del Toro, who is known for combining sweeping imagery, comic elements, and dark themes in movies like "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Blade II," tackles the comic-book incarnation with all the enthusiasm of a long-time fan boy. The result is a flick that tells an over-the-top story through the actions of equally over-the-top characters, using the entire world as a set to get the job done.

One of the strengths of "Hellboy" is that the movie looks and feels like a comic book. Some unbelievable plot elements are instantly forgiven by viewers because comic books are supposed to be larger-and less believable-than real life. The movie begins when Nazis attempt to open a portal to another dimension, seemingly to release chaos to the world. The opening volley of Nazis, combined with references to chaos demons, may have viewers groaning, but the action keeps enough pace to carry even the most wary of watchers.

U.S. soldiers interrupt the Nazi action and save a fledgling demon from Hitler's control. The demon, known as Hellboy, is raised by a professor and other accomplices. Sixty years later, Hellboy joins up with an assortment of other odd players, including a fish man named Abe, as part of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). The movie gets to the point quickly after introducing a wild cast of characters; Hellboy and his friends fight evil creatures, save the day, and wreak a bit of havoc on their city in the process. It's all standard secret-superhero stuff until the past comes back to bite the BPRD big time.

In addition to fast-paced action and colorful on-screen explosions, "Hellboy" has something else going for it. Somehow, moviemakers were able to entice a talented and charismatic cast to suit up for the endeavor, even though it meant some of them probably sat in the makeup chair for hours each day. The movie is headlined by Ron Perlman, who is most recently known for his role in the television show "Sons of Anarchy." Under pounds of makeup, Perlman delivers the role of Hellboy with enthusiastic style. The actor clearly had fun with the role, and his joy comes through via witty jabs, entertaining battle scenes, and the human spark that endears Hellboy to viewers.

Other notable actors deliver fun performances in the film. The wizened Professor Bloom is played by iconic actor John Hurt. Selma Blair delivers a sizzling and slightly vulnerable performance as Liz Sherman, and Rupert Evans is ever believable as agent John Myers. Other performances worth mentioning come from Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, Brian Steele as Sammael, and Karel Rodin as Rasputin.

"Hellboy" is full of conspiracies, secret lairs, and giant gadgets meant to foil the good guys. The movie is also filled with human moments as viewers come to know Hellboy and realize that he's more man than demon, regardless of his form or birth. Del Torro does a good job of weaving in normal moments to expose Hellboy's human side. The demon hero experiences several sweet moments with Liz, shows an affinity for helpless kittens, and enjoys a quality cigar. Small moments like these keep viewers engaged with what could otherwise be an unrelatable character.

After introducing Hellboy's origin story, getting viewers caught up with the BPRD, and showing off Hellboy's capabilities in a few sub-city demon brawls, the writers launch Hellboy and company on an adventure that spans the globe. The group ends up in Russia, where Hellboy faces a final decision between good and evil, and the protagonists face a seemingly impossible battle against a primal monster.

"Hellboy" begins and ends with a similar voiceover reflecting that choices are what make a man. The lighthearted-comic-book romp ends with a surprisingly philosophical message, but viewers don't mind because the message is delivered on the back of a street-wise, smart-talking demon hero who brings more explosions than introspection to the screen.

Overall, "Hellboy" is fun, enjoyable, and not too thought provoking. It's the perfect type of movie for midnight on a Saturday, a Friday night comic-book marathon, or a sleepover for preteen boys. Viewers should gather the popcorn and put lids on the soda, because the nonstop action and laughter make it easy to spill your goods. "Hellboy" is one of those timeless films that will pull in young comic-book lovers and viewers who like unique hero tales for years to come.

Rating: 3 out of 5