Guillermo del Toro loves things that go bump in the night. The Mexican born writer/director has shown prowess at slimy, spooky creatures with Cronos and 1997’s Mimic. He helmed the 2002 sequel to Blade, which had super vampires whose mouths would open up into four sections with rows of chattering teeth. The man sure loves his movie monsters. del Toro also loved Mike Mignola’s cult comic book Hellboy enough to turn down directing Harry Potter 3 and Blade 3 to ensure he could bring Hellboy to the big screen. Was it worth the sacrifice?
Let me just explain to you the villains of this movie as an example of how ridiculously stupid Hellboy is. The villains are Nazis. Yes, the tried and true villains everyone can hate Nazis. But these ain’t yo daddy’s Nazis; they’re immortal and led by zombie Rasputin (yes, the Rasputin). They all wish to puncture a hole into another dimension. What’s in this alternate dimension? Why nothing except for a giant floating spaceship that houses, I kid you not, the Seven Gods of Chaos, which all happen to be gigantic space squids. Why would anyone create a universe that has nothing but the imprisoned gods of evil? That seems awfully precarious. How exactly are giant squids going to take over the industrialized, nuclear-age world? Shoot ink at everyone? Sorry, space ink?
Let me not forget a Nazi assassin and his handy dandy arm-length blades. This assassin is also 100 years old and his body is filled entirely with sand. He winds himself up like a big clock. But if his body is filled completely with sand how can the clock gears work inside? You see what the normal audience member has to deal with? Plus these are just the villains, there’s a whole plot left to toil over as well.
The story revolves around a hulking, red demon named Hellboy (veteran character actor Ron Perlman). Hellboy escaped the space squid dimension in the 1940s when the Nazis unsuccessfully tried to open a dimensional hole large enough for your everyday on-the-go space squid. Now, Hellboy is an elite soldier for the governments Bureau of Paranormal Research. He fights the creepy crawlies. He has to deal with a wide-eyed rookie, the watch of his father (John Hurt) and an attempt to rekindle a romance with a mentally troubled fire starter (Selma Blair). Oh yeah, and all the Nazi/Rasputin/space squid stuff mentioned before.
Perlman is really the only redeeming thing about this movie. The makeup is impressive, and he gives an enjoyably droll performance as a man who fights monsters with the same ho-hum-ness as a plumber reacts to clogged sinks. The rest of the acting runs the gambit of either being too serious (Im looking at you Blair) or just too over-the-top silly (Im looking at you, league of villains).
Hellboy is strung together with bizarre inanities, flat one-liners, heavy Catholic imagery, conflicting logic and contradictions, ridiculous villains, painful comic relief, half-baked romance and frustratingly ever-changing plot devices.
Watching Hellboy is like playing tag with a kid that keeps making up new rules as he goes (“You cant tag me; I have an invisibility shield!”), and after awhile you lose any interest. Late in the film, the Nazis will all of a sudden decide not to be immortal, and at a very inopportune time. Why? How? I don’t know. Hellboy also gets sudden new powers for some reason. Like he can bring people back to life by whispering otherworldly threats in their ears. For some reason nobody’s clothes burn when theyre set on fire.
Not only does Hellboy frustrate by changing the rules of its world arbitrarily, it will also frustrate out of sheer uninhibited stupidity. How come characters cant hear or see a pendulum the size of the Chrysler building? How come during a vision of the apocalypse we see a newspaper that actually had the time and staff, during the Apocalypse, to print an issue that reads, “APPOCALYPSE”? Why doesn’t Blair use her pyro superpowers immediately to vanquish all the H.P. Lovecraft creatures instead of letting Hellboy foolishly wrestle with them all? The gaping holes in Hellboy are large enough to squeeze a gigantic space squid through.
All this frustration and insanity might have been moot if the action sequences were somewhat thrilling. Sadly, they are not. Del Toro’s action sequences seldom matter. There’s such little consequence of what’s going on that the action becomes stiff and lifeless. The first time we see Hellboy chase a creature through city streets it’s a fun experience, but soon the novelty wears off. The overuse of CGI wears down the audience, and after the third or forth time we watch Hellboy battle the same monster, the audience is ready to go to sleep. There’s little entertainment in the film’s action sequences, but just as much frustration and stupidity.
I have never watched a film that induced more eye rolls, shoulder shrugs, raised eyebrows, pained and confused glances and mutters of, What the hell (boy)? By the time the resurrected torso of a Russian skeleton appears to make cheesy puns and wisecracks, you should have left the theater, demanded full compensation, and maybe, if you’re into it, destroyed whatever Hellboy display was within burning distance. Comic book aficionados may enjoy the fruits of Hellboy but general audiences will simply shrug. I’m amazed that the majority of film critics seem to think positively about this movie. Maybe I’m the last sane person in an insane world but Hellboy is one of the worst films of the year and one of the craziest films you could ever hope to see in a lifetime.
Nate’s Grade: D+
Posted on April 3, 2004, in 2004 Movies and tagged action, comic book, demons, doug jones, guillermo del toro, john hurt, monsters, nazis, ron perlman, sci-fi, selma blair. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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