For fans of Mike Mignola's gritty, pulp-noir horror comic, Hellboy, the casting of Ron Perlman as the titular horned hero has to be something of a personal victory. From the moment I heard this man was cast in the role, I nodded my head with unbridled enthusiasm. What superhero film's casting has ever been so right on? Perlman, a man with a face I'm not even sure a mother could love, appeared in test make-up photos that looked like panels of the comic book come to life. Seeing the actor's jagged profile matched up to one of Mignola's drawings is one of those things where you just have to say "Wow". It's possibly the best realization of a comic book character I've ever seen. If only the film was as good.
The film opens with a lengthy origin sequence in which a young Professor "Broom" Bruttenholm leads an allied assault on an occult ceremony engineered for the nazis by the quasi immortal Grigori Rasputin (Roden). Rasputin attempts to open a doorway between our world and a demon dimension, but, when his plans are foiled, he is sucked into the demon world, and the doorway is once again closed. However, something has slipped through in the guise of a demon child. The soldiers name him Hellboy, and a legend is born.
Flash forward to present day, and Hellboy is now an agent for a secret branch of the F.B.I. that deals with the "Things that go bump in the night". Led by Broom (Hurt), Hellboy and the aquatic psychic Abe Sapien (voiced by David Hyde Pierce) specialize in keeping these paranormal incursions off the public radar; that is, when Hellboy isn't running around in public while pining after his lost love, Liz (Blair). When a series of demonic attacks point to the return of Rasputin, Hellboy and the team must stop the mad monk from finishing what he started nearly sixty years before. However, what Hellboy doesn't realize is that he has been a part of that plan all along.
I really had a lot of fun with Hellboy, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that something was lacking in this film; it all felt sort of hollow. I guess my main gripe would be with Del Toro's screenplay, which seems a little too eager to mirror the comic books machismo and groan inducing one-liners while sacrificing character development. While Hellboy, himself, is very well realized, the supporting players are parchment paper thin. We get snippets of information about the other characters, but not nearly enough to develop any kind of emotional investment in them. This holds true for the villains, as well. Rasputin and his cronies are something of an afterthought, it seems, lacking anything by way of the charisma that is the hallmark of a good movie villain.
That being said, I did enjoy Hellboy quite a bit. I found it a refreshing mix of genres, and can't say enough about the excellent performance turned in by Perlman. Del Toro's direction is a helluva lot better than his writing this time out, and the film looks fantastic, oozing an urban gothic vibe that really sets the mood. The special effects, while heavy on the CGI, are on par with even the biggest budgeted flicks out there.
This two disc special edition set from Columbia/TriStar is loaded with extra goodies, including cast and production commentaries; loads of behind-the-scenes featurettes; interactive comic, storyboard, and animatics; cartoons; photo and art galleries; deleted scenes, scripts, trailers, and more. It's an astounding set filled with all sorts of fun extras, capped off by a gorgeous widescreen anamorphic transfer of the film itself.
While I had a few problems with Hellboy, it's one of those films that I'm certain to soften up on after repeat viewings (much like the original Blade). I just wish Del Toro's screenplay were as faithful to the supporting players as it was to Hellboy and his universe.