We live in an age now, where films based on comic book characters are serious. They are fun also, but comic book films that take their subject matter seriously, seem to be cropping up more and more these days. However, this doesn’t mean that the film makers don’t know how to infuse their stories with a bit of fun. Cheesy or not. Hellboy is a film that does just that and then some.
Director Guillermo del Toro sets the stage following his Blade II effort in a big way with Mike Mignola’s creation, and the result is quite enjoyable. It is also, dare I say, moving. However, the film doesn’t get bogged down in all the weight that it potentially brings, being that the lead character comes from hell and looks like the spawn of Satan himself. The movie is self-aware of its existence as a ‘movie’, which is to say, make-believe, but it is also aware that it is a film that has its roots in the colorful pages of a comic book.
The funny thing about a cartoon, video game or comic book character making the leap from the medium of birth to the big screen, particularly in the live-action format, is that it becomes “real” in a sense. It ceases to be something only enjoyed by kids and takes on a life that transcends far beyond the pages of a comic book, broadening the appeal of these human characters with human flaws. We get to see real people behaving in the outlandish situations and wielding various powers. Such is the case here.
Speaking of human characters, the titular character of Hellboy has got to be one of the most interesting characters around. When you’ve got a nearly 7-foot tall devilish demigod who works for a secret government organization fighting monsters, eats way more than any normal human, has a soft spot for cats and is in love, you’ve got to see what this guy is about. Ron Perlman, star of this show, sank his teeth into this role and really made it his own. He brings gravitas and great humor, while smashing monsters into a pulp. He embraces the machismo in his body language and delivery, but also manages to present a sense of vulnerability that is actually moving.
Key players like Selma Blair, who plays the psychologically damaged love interest and on again/off again Bureau operative Liz Sherman, as well as Doug Jones as the merman creature Abe Sapien, serve as solid support for Perlman’s Hellboy. Unique and quirky in their own ways, they fit in nicely with the hulking demon. Even Rupert Evans, the square, odd man out manages to find his way in to the family as the FBI agent assigned to accompany Hellboy.
Visually speaking, this film, as is the case with many of del Toro’s pictures, contains a language of its own. To be fair, all films have a visual language they speak, but since del Toro is Mr. Visual, we are talking about something a little different. His special effects and makeup design background has given him the tools to say something different, and to do so with a dash of panache. He understands how a film of this kind should look to do justice to the material and yet he puts his personal stamp on the look. The colors in this movie are rich and vibrant, yet they don’t ooze from the screen. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they did, but the colors are held in check by the overall tone of the film.
All the del Toro hallmarks are in place here. Most notably, the monster fascination, the touches of Catholicism, and Ron Perlman. There’ll most certainly be those who complain about not being able to understand the story or what have you, and if you, dear reader, happen to be one of those people, you still won’t be able to deny that you’ll be immersed in the world as brought to life by del Toro. You’ll be entertained in your confusion. At the end of it all, it’s still del Toro, which means beneath the lighthearted pleasure he brings, there is almost always a subtext that the lyrical and thoughtful auteur has subtly infused for us to discover and that too, is a part of what makes the experience so enjoyable.