Guillermo Del Toro’s third crack at U.S. cinema has all the hallmarks of a mega-sized home run. Pre-dating the holy/wacky match of director and material that was James Gunn and Guardians Of The Galaxy by a whole decade, Hellboy shares a whole lot of DNA with it’s space-set soul mate. Featuring eccentric, lovable freaks at it’s centre yet boasting a ton of heart to with it’s LSD fuelled visuals, not to mention industrial strength levels of sardonic humour to marry everything together, the biggest surprise about Hellboy’s first big screen outing is that with all this flair on display, it just isn’t THAT interesting.
Shot in a world where North America frequently looks like an Eastern European slum, Del Toro’s vision of Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse comic is so obsessed with it’s (admittedly cool) fantasy characters that everyone that looks or acts even remotely human are boring as hell.
Ron Pearlman was born to play Hellboy (but only twice apparently) and his grumpy demeanour is stacked with more quirks than a Charlie Sheen press conference. Constantly filling his horns down to “fit in” and boasting a massive love of cats and Baby Ruth chocolate bars, Pearlman grumbles and mutters his way through the film, breaking demon faces and pining for emotionally damaged pyrophore Liz Sherman (Selma Blair with her lines locked on mumble). Teamed with adorable, telepathic merman Abe Sapian (played by Del Toro regular Doug Jones but voiced by Niles from Frasier) the bland human leads have no chance to make an impact. Similarly the villains have the same problem. Apocalypse-courting, slap-head Rasputin fades into the background in favour of his far more interesting clockwork hearted, undead, Nazi assassin Kronen or the hulking, regenerating, lizard monster Samuel.
The film ultimately finds it’s balance in it’s humorous scenes that have nothing to do with the overarching main plot, like where he enlists an 8 year old to help him spy on his crush or debating with a resurrected corpse for directions.
While there’s nothing here that comes close to the punishing brutality of Del Toro’s previous American film, Blade 2, Hellboy also wins in it’s entertainingly monster mauls (utilising an impressive fusion of CGI and man-in-a-suit performances) although it all comes apart in a busy, yet generic climax that involves Lovecraftian tentacle gods and Hellboy coming face to face with his horny heritage (not THAT kind of horny you perverts!). This being a Del Toro joint, obviously everything looks fucking stunning with every incredible detail imbedded in literally every conceivable thing you can see on screen, but he didn’t truly nail his own vision of this world until his own superior sequel where he hits Return Of The Jedi levels of detail.
A solid attempt and a herald of an outlandish tone that would be eventually perfected further down the line, Hellboy is an above average, insanely ambitious comic book movie that came from that awkward period that was post Spider-Man but pre-MCU and while it doesn’t quite hit the target it’s aiming for, it’s still worthy as Hell, boy.