Blast from the Past Movie Review: Hellboy (2004)
Although Hellboy is not as well-known as, say, Batman or Spider-Man (no great surprise since he's from Dark Horse, as opposed to the Marvel-DC duopoly), he still got a comic-book movie made about him. Two in fact. I watched the first film for Myopia Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast. And now my review...
In 1944, a group of Nazis led by the Russian sorcerer Rasputin have occupied an island off the coast of Scotland in order to summon the Lovecraftian Ogdru Jahad to help them win WWII. They're interrupted by a platoon of American soldiers, but not before they summon a demonic ape-like baby. The American soldiers feed him Baby Ruth candy bars and adopt him as their mascot "Hellboy." Fast-forward to the modern era and Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has grown up to fight paranormal threats for the FBI while pining after the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). New FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) is assigned to the team just in time for Rasputin to rise again and try to summon the Ogdru Jahad, with Hellboy playing a surprising role...
*An impressive amount of research into mythology, folklore, and the occult went into the film. Hellboy's anti-demon bullets are filled with holy water, silver, shavings of white oak, etc., which he refers to as "the works." All of those are reputed to have supernatural properties--holy water for exorcising demons and repelling vampires, silver to kill werewolves, etc. The Nazis attempt their ceremony in Scotland, despite the fact it's on the territory of one of their enemies and they're losing the war, because two ley lines intersect there.
*Although a movie with an outright demon as the lead doesn't seem like a major candidate for a Christian film, this is actually a pretty strongly Christian movie. Many characters are depicted as being faithful (Catholic specifically), Christian icons are depicted as having supernatural power against Evil, etc.
*There's a whole lot of Rule of Cool going on here, including a clockwork cyborg Nazi assassin, Rasputin using Magitek to summon demons, etc. It's a lot of fun.
*That Dr. Broom (John Hurt), Hellboy's adoptive father, is terminally ill is shown, not told. And this leads to a rather surprising end for the character.
*There are some really impressive visuals, like the temple in the mountains of Moldova where human blood is put to religious use.
*I liked the Lovecraftian influences in the film. The Ogdru Jahad are extra-dimensional tentacle monsters served by black magicians much like Cthulhu, while the opening of the film cites De Vermis Mysteriis, an occult book that's part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft was unappreciated in his own time and is a pretty niche topic today, so that's pretty cool.
*The movie has got a fair number of amusing one-liners, including various sex jokes associated with the hellhound Samael. Sex jokes associated with a tentacled demon-dog--I promise you, they're a lot more clever than they sound. Toward the end of the film, there's a resurrected half corpse of a Russian that gets a lot of really good lines, all in subtitles.
*Hellboy has a character arc. He starts out rather immature despite being over sixty years old (the movie explains this in "reverse dog years") and acts like a somewhat stalkerish high schooler where Liz and romantic rival Myers are concerned. However, this is something he grows out of by the end of the film. The bureaucratic and prejudiced FBI agent Thomas Manning has an arc too--at the beginning of the movie he refers to the paranormal team as a bunch of freaks, but by later on he's teaching Hellboy how best to light a cigar.
*The film's single biggest flaw is how slow it is. It's over two hours long and there were many times I was looking at my watch. The special-effects failures (I'll get to that later) were pretty minor in comparison to just how un-entertaining this movie was in many places. I'd suggested on the podcast that some of the Samael fight-scenes could have been cut (just ditch the whole "if you die two will take your place" bit) to speed the movie along, even if it meant "killing your darling" and eliminating the scene where Hellboy stops a fight to save some kittens.
*The special effects have not held up very well. Maybe it's because I was watching an ordinary DVD on a Blu-Ray player on a high-definition TV, but there was a lot of stuff that was obviously computer-generated imagery. When I saw this on the big screen in college it might not have been this obvious, but it certainly is now. Many of the close-ups of Samael look real because they clearly used a model or a puppet and Hellboy himself is an excellent prosthetic/makeup work, but there are far too many scenes that are "invasion of the video game."
(Still not as bad as Spawn though.)
*A character dies because Hellboy left his home go to stalk Liz and Myers on their possible-date. I would expect that to be a much bigger deal for both Hellboy and Liz. Hellboy's maturation and willingness to back off where Liz is concerned could have been driven by the quite-justifiable guilt he would feel over the situation, but other than seeing him holding the character's rosary at the funeral, it's never touched on. Given how both Liz and Hellboy are depicted as Catholics, they could even explore stereotypical Catholic guilt some.
*At this character's rainy funeral, they've got a "sea of umbrellas" shot. That seems to be a bit of a cliche in film--according to this link here, Hellboy is actually paying homage to the film Foreign Correspondent, but I've seen it so many times that my first thought was "cliche." This isn't totally fair--I've complained about how the John Carter stories were ripped off so many times that by the time the movie came out ideas the Carter mythos originated had become cliched--but I still felt it.
*The Nazi soldiers in the prologue are so focused on the occult ritual they're protecting they are completely oblivious to the American soldiers creeping up on them. Given how the Nazis are losing the war at this point and they've snuck onto the territory of an Allied power, I figured they'd be a lot more alert. Prolonging the battle between the Americans and the Germans could be a means of building suspense--the longer the fight goes on, the more likely something gnarly is going to come through that portal.
See it once if you can get it off Netflix or something. It's not really worth buying. 6.0 out of 10.