“In the absence of light, darkness prevails.”
Dir. Guillermo del Toro
Runtime: 122 minutes
Starring: Ron Perlman, Doug Jones, Selma Blair, John Hurt
World War II is almost over. On a Scottish island Nazi officers Karl Ruprecht Kroenan and Ilsa Haupstein attempt to raise the forces of Hell using Russian mystic Grigory Rasputin, but they are interrupted by some Allied commandos with Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm in their midst. Although interrupted, a half-blood human-demon is conjured up in infant form – I say infant form, but he looks like a little devil with red skin, horns, a tail, and a strangely large arm. Broom becomes father figure to the human-demon who becomes affectionately known as “Hellboy”. Together with other freakish misfits (Abe Sapien – an ichthyo sapien empath, or fish-man; and Liz Sherman – with pyrokinetic abilities, or simply a fire-starter) , Broom and Hellboy are part of the top-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, fighting supernatural forces and keep humanity safe. When Kroenan and Haupstein resurrect Rasputin, trouble is not far away and the Bureau are in the thick of it – trying to fight the bad guys, while trying to stay anonymous and not scare the general populous about a red skinned demon, his aquatic friend and a fire-starter running around.
The characters in this film are based on a Dark Horse comic by Mike Mignola called “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction”. I love comics and graphic novels so when this was released I was ready to love it or hate and be critical of it. I ended up actually enjoying it – not loving it, but enjoying and appreciating it.
With del Toro in the directors chair, this film is a well-balanced journey which has a good pace and is visually stunning. The casting is good and in the lead role Ron Perlman brings the character to life well. The script he is working from is sharp and snappy and offers a nice mix of comedy and emotion. Expect to see him fight the bad guys, struggle with his emotions, and drop plenty of funny quips into his scenes. I didn’t enjoy all the characters written into the film so it wouldn’t be fair to say that everybody was a standout in the film; it was particularly the human characters like agent John Meyers that didn’t do it for me.
In bringing the film, the story, and the characters to like, credit again has to be aimed at del Toro for his penmanship in the role of screenwriter. He certainly knows how to create a well-balanced article that will capture audience’s imagination and entertain them. He doesn’t just create a great journey for fans, but almost a piece of art which at times can be poetic. There are some subtle themes slotted around the frantic action, which if you take a moment to look at, offers some lovely depth.
The make-up and use of prosthetics in this film help make the characters authentic and believable. Hellboy looks like a demon spawn; the way he has made up doesn’t look like it’s just been attached to Perlman, more that it’s part of him. Likewise, the Abe Sapien character, acted by Doug Jones with David Hyde-Pierce voicing him. He’s supposed to be fish-like, and all his actions look and feel fluid.
Having watched this when it was released in 2004, and then re-watched it in 2021 I still feel the same way as I did back then. I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. It is entertaining and pretty to look at, but it not a perfect article. On the plus side though, with it’s foot in supernatural and occult fiction, it’s a nice distraction from some of the other mainstream comic adaptions which tend to be straight up action films.
Due to it’s success, a sequel was released – “Hellboy 2 – The Golden Army” (2008), and a reboot with David Harbour playing the crimson skinned half-demon was released in 2019. For this 2004 effort though, I’m giving it a 7 out of 10.