The origin of the mutants in "X-Men" is a concept based on evolution that requires only a little suspension of disbelief. But a whole lot of supernatural B-movie overkill goes into the birth of the title character in "Hellboy" -- including occultish Nazis, a resurrected Rasputin, and the opening of an intergalactic wormhole meant to unleash the "seven gods of chaos" (whatever they are) upon the Earth.
The pre-credits sequence of this effects-heavy summer's-come-early superhero action flick -- based on Mike Mignola's cult comic of the same name -- is a real eye-roller, especially since a battalion of G.I. Joes sent expressly to stop this fascist-black-magic conspiracy just sits on its collective hands doing nothing until the whole shebang is already underway.
But once writer-director Guillermo del Toro ("Blade II," "The Devil's Backbone") moves into the modern day -- where the demon-like spawn of that evil experiment has paradoxically grown into a muscle-bound, horn-headed, red-skinned and stone-fisted, paranormal, crime-fighting anti-hero called Hellboy -- the film settles into a distinctively sharp, sardonic rhythm full of character and imagination.
Perfectly cast in the lead is the mountainous Ron Perlman (best known for "The City of Lost Children" and the early-'90s TV fantasy "Beauty and the Beast"). His rumbling, ironic lilt and cynical cigar-chomping give charismatic aplomb to this supernatural superhero whose first choice would be to stay home eating giant bowls of chili and watching TV. But yeah, OK, fine, he'll help save the world too.
A not entirely willing agent of the clandestine Federal Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, he and a telepathic water-breathing, blue humanoid mutant named Abe Sapien -- earn their top-secret keep by fighting monsters the government doesn't want you to know about. And now it seems Rasputin and some blade-fu-fighting, Darth-Nazi assassin have come back from the dead (again) to unleash a swarm of huge, tentacle-mouthed, CGI-rendered hellhounds on the world, and kidnap Hellboy so they can use his powers to reopen the wormhole and bring about Armageddon.
This, of course, begets a half-dozen or so expensively staged monster-vs.-monster fight sequences, the big finish of which takes place in a labyrinth of cavernous catacombs beneath a Moscow graveyard, where Hellboy enlists the reluctant help of a talking corpse (a development that is never adequately explained).
Although the picture does succumb to its fair share of comic-book hyperbole and action-flick clichés (some catch-phrase dialogue and that neck-cracking thing movie tough guys all seem to do before a fight), it also rises above its genre with its depth of character -- at least where Hellboy himself is concerned.
Perlman gives the big red devil (who sports filed-down horns) both an evocative tender side (he's lamentably in love with a troubled, beautiful pyro-kinetic played by Selma Blair) and an amusing anti-establishment attitude. On the other hand, many lesser parts like the generically sinister Rasputin (Karel Roden) and Hellboy's fresh-from-the-Bureau academy minder (Rupert Evans) are one-dimensional stock characters.
But supported by Perlman's intensity and del Toro's obvious devotion to the unconventional source material, "Hellboy" prevails over its deficiencies with entertaining chutzpah -- even though its imperfections run all the way through to its I-don't-know-how-else-to-end-my-movie closing voice-over.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd April 2004
Box Office USA: $59.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $99.3M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Revolution Studios, Lawrence Gordon Productions, Dark Horse Entertainment, Starlite Films
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 159 Rotten: 38
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman as Hellboy, Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, Rupert Evans as John Myers, John Hurt as Prof. Bruttenholm, Jeffrey Tambor as Tom Manning, Karel Roden as Grigori Rasputin, Brian Steele as Sammael, Ladislav Beran as Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, Biddy Hodson as Ilsa Haupstein, Corey Johnson as Agent Clay, Brian Caspe as Agent Lime, James Babson as Agent Moss, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien
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