Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I need to be honest here.  Up until today, I've never seen the full movie Hellboy.  I've seen snippets of it here and there.  I know that it's one of the movies that really helped launch the career of Guillermo Del Toro (along with Blade II and Pan's Labyrinth).  I know it's the movie that returned Ron Perlman to his "several hours in the make-up chair" roots that stemmed from Beauty and the Beast.

But being able to genuinely discuss the plot?  ...not so much, because I had no idea what happened in it.

I know what you're saying.  "But Erik," you're exclaiming in disbelief, "didn't you say you loved Hellboy in your blog post about giant robots and giant monsters?"  Yes, I did, and I acknowledge that sentence could very well be misleading, so I'm asking for permission to take it back.  It should have been "I loved what I saw of Hellboy, and the fact that he's embraced strange stories such as that and is willing to elevate them to another entertainment medium."  That line in that blog post was an unintentional lie, and a blemish on my record.

But that's all changed.

...because I've watched it.

Okay, this intro has pretty much stalled, let's get into the movie itself.

I'm going to preface the following by saying that I enjoyed this movie.  It was fun, some of the dialogue was really entertaining, and a lot of the casting was spot-on perfect.

Guillermo Del Toro is probably up there with Tim Burton when it comes to making uniquely distinctive settings rich in strange creatures and original ideas.  Throughout Hellboy there was a whisper in the back of my mind going "yup, this is a Del Toro work."  Elaborate clockwork labyrinths, strange underground libraries, strange sewer systems, snowy graveyards, everything just screamed "just otherworldly enough to let you know Del Toro had a hand in it."  This isn't a complaint, each setting was extremely rich, and I had the feeling a full movie could take place in any one single setting, as we barely scratched the surface of the depth these places had.

Ron Perlman is, for all intents and purposes, Hellboy.  He has the dry wit, the petulance, and the stare that makes you cringe when it falls upon you.  I remember before the movie came out there were websites devoted to casting who they thought would be best in the various character roles, and I don't think a single one of them had any complaints when Perlman was announced.  It was one big, collective Internet version of "yup, okay, pack it in guys, we're going home, they won."

The story jumps around some.  A dangerous creature is unleashed in- you know, I have no idea what city the main part of the story happens in.  Oh wait, a guy mentions "New York" at one point.  Never mind.  Anyway, a creature is unleashed, and any time it's "killed" two more hatch from the egg cluster it lays.  Despite the fact that the eggs were all laid (not "lain," no matter how awesome that word would read there) in the weird old reservoirs under the New York subway tunnels and never fully dealt with, the story then jumps to Russia where somehow these creatures and their entire egg supply have managed to relocate.  The primary bad guy, Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) has some rather vague motivations, since at first he's assisting the Nazis, then he wants to bring eldrich horrors into the world through a portal, and then he seems content to unleash a completely different large creature on the world at the very end.

The CG work holds up pretty well for the most part, though there are a few scenes where a character's hand looks really fake when it's surrounded by flames, and Hellboy sometimes looks like a video game character during a few fights.  I call it "The First Spider-Man Movie CG" syndrome.

Some of the actors left me a bit underwhelmed.  Doug Jones performs well as Abe Sapien, but he all but disappears from the movie after a certain point, and there were several large story beats where getting a reaction from him would be important.  I was also left wanting to know more about some of the other main cast.  Rupert Evans felt flat as John Myers (Corey Johnson's Agent Clay, on the other hand, gave us little to work with, but still felt more real), and Selma Blair's Liz felt distant.  There was obviously a strong past between her characters and the other characters, but other than some lip service to "growing up together" we never really see her react to this shared history in a way that felt realistic.  To be fair, if her character gets upset things tend to blow up, but consider Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, someone who manages to look and act haunted by what they have to struggle to control, but still able to have powerful character moments.

Biddy Hodson's Ilsa was a waste of a character, and while I liked Karel Roden's Rasputin well enough at the beginning, there were too many questions in the air involving his character to really give him much in the way of being a credible threat.  Ladislav Beran's Karl Kroenen was much the same, except we actually saw him be dangerous.  However, in a scene later in the movie where he feigns death to infiltrate the good guys' base, I found myself wondering "wait, didn't the means of him staying alive just get removed?  How is he getting back up again?"

Hellboy is a fun movie and worth seeing for Ron Perlman and Del Toro's sets.  The writing has a few strong moments (many of which come from lines spoken by Abe Sapien), the set pieces are great, the action is well-choreographed, but there are a lot of things that I think could have used a few more rewrites and some more polishing.

Fun movie?  Certainly.  Great movie?  Not taken as a whole.  Good enough for what it wants to be?  I'll allow it.

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