When last we left this column, Guillermo Del Toro had hit box office gold with Blade II, finally giving him enough box office clout to make his dream project...a film adaptation of the comic book Hellboy. Created by Mike Mingola, and one of the breakout characters in the comic book boom of the 1990s. For those who are unaware of Hellboy, let me run down the origins. In the closing days of World War II, in a final act of desperation, Hitler had his scientists and magicians perform an arcane ceremony in an attempt to bring about the end of the world. The Allies came in in time and were able to close the portal to Hell before the end of the world came about. However, something did come through...an infant demon. The soldiers who stopped that ceremony went on to form the BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. As their mission is described in many incarnations of the franchise: "There are things that go bump in the night. We're the ones who bump back." And as for that infant demon? The founder of the BPRD raised him as his own son. Named Hellboy, he became the BPRD's greatest agent.
Joining Hellboy in his paranormal investigations are his best friend, Abe Sapien, a psychic merman, and his on again/off again girlfriend Liz Sherman, a woman with the gift of pyrokinesis. That is, she can start and control fires with her mind. She's still learning to control her gift, though, and when she loses control, she has been known to unleash fireballs that level city blocks.
Like a lot of comic book characters, I did my homework as I started reading about the development of the film online. I remember reading of del Toro's frustrations as he tried to pitch it to Hollywood. He recounted the story of one Hollywood executive who said, "What if...Hellboy is just a regular human, and he turns into Hellboy when he gets angry?" And del Toro just kind of went, "Really? That doesn't remind you of any other comic book character?" But then Blade II became a hit and del Toro had the power to make the film his way.
One of the things that del Toro always wanted was Ron Perlman to play Hellboy. As I mentioned last time, Perlman is to del Toro what Johnny Depp is to Tim Burton. He puts him in everything. Again, del Toro really had to fight for Perlman, as the studios wanted a bigger star to play Hellboy. As del Toro kept arguing, what's the point of getting a big star when you're going to bury him under 10 tons of special effects make-up, and thus, never see him? Just get the guy that's right for the role. And Perlman is right for the role. He is Hellboy. He's got the right swagger, the right voice, the right attitude, just the right everything.
It's been said that one of those necessary tropes in sci-fi and fantasy is that of the outsider. When this universe is being explained to the outsider, it is being explained to the audience. In Hellboy, that role is filled by Agent John Meyers, newly assigned the BPRD to be the new liaison officer for Hellboy. Hellboy's been in a bit of trouble, lately. Liz has once again tried to walk away from the BPRD and lead something of a normal life, and Hellboy frequently sneaks out to see her, which threatens to blow their cover. But, our heroes are soon sent out on a mission to capture a beast that's tearing up a museum. And our plot is now set in motion. See, it was everyone's favorite mad Russian, Rasputin, that released Hellboy in that ceremony at the end of World War II, and now he's back from the dead to once again bring about the end of the world. Can our heroes save the world?
But of course, we need the necessary complications. Meyer is successful in getting Liz to come back to the agency, and Hellboy starts getting jealous. Hellboy's father, Professor Broom, is dying of cancer, so of course, there's going to be a tearful death scene before the thing is done. And Hellboy will be torn between his destiny of bringing about the end of the world, or embracing free will and saying, "Fuck that," and saving it.
There's so much to love in this film. It has such a quirky charm. Part of the appeal of Hellboy is, even though he meets all these other-worldly threats, his attitude is always that of just a blue collar joe, just doing his job.
Great performances in the cast all around. As already mentioned, Perlman has Hellboy is just fantastic. Selma Blair is also great as Liz Sherman. Very hurt, very vulnerable...this is a woman who has caused damage, and it has damaged her. The always amazing John Hurt as Professor Broom is amazing as always. (Can I be any more redundant?) And Jeffrey Tambor, very beloved as George Bluth Sr. and Oscar Bluth in Arrested Development, is great as Tom Manning, the stuffy head of the BPRD.
And such great villains, too. Like Kroenen, our clockwork ninja. He's horribly mutilated his body, and replaced several body parts with clockwork replacements. It's always how I kind of figured Snake Eyes would be portrayed in a GI Joe movie...just that great "silent and deadly" quality.
I also get a kick out of the scene where Hellboy resurrects a foul-mouthed corpse in a graveyard to get directions. Just fun stuff.
And, as always, got to give props to the score by Marco Beltrami.
Not much more that I feel I can say. This is just a fun film. Something a little outside the mainstream in the superhero genre.
So, while this film was a modest hit at the box office, no one was beating down del Toro's door to make a sequel. To continue the saga, del Toro had to go build up more power in Hollywood. He did that by making the critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth. Once again powerful enough to do whatever he wanted, he made Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Guess what we're doing next?