Hellboy has now joined my collection of films that are based upon comic books which I’ve never read. It joins Daredevil, Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and, er, Supergirl. Now, there’s a line-up!
Compare it with my list of films that are based upon comic books that I have read; X-Men, Batman, Spiderman—a smaller collection, but one with significantly better films (discounting Joel Schumacher’s efforts, of course). Will Hellboy stand with pride in the latter collection, or will it shuffle it’s feet quietly with the flawed/awful works in the former?
All I knew of Hellboy before seeing the film was this: that Hellboy was this demon thing who files down his horns so that he fits in better. So, I was pretty confident that I wasn’t going to be getting uppity about any poor handling of the source material. The film opens in full-on exposition mode, in World War Two, on some Scottish island, where some Nazis and a couple of other people are attempting to open a portal to some dark hellish region. Luckily for us, there are some Americans! Go America!
They foil the Nazis’ plan and shut the portal, apparently killing the bloke who was trying to open the portal in the first place. There is also a knife-swirling assassin in a gimp suit who gets impaled against a tree, but then disappears when he’s off-camera. More on him later. There are some mutterings about how something might have gotten through the portal, and a quick rummage around the nearby area reveals Hellboy, though he’s just a friendly CGI baby at this point. Remember the weird CGI creature that turned up in the film ‘Lost in Space’? These two were seperated at birth, I swear.
Roll credits, and fast-forward to the present day. We’re treated to a montage of tabloid press cuttings with fuzzy, indistinct photos of Hellboy, and lots of denials by the FBI regarding Hellboy’s existance. Annoyingly, this is something that the film never picks up on again—before very long, Hellboy is stomping around town in full view of everyone as if it’s a regular occurance, and by the end of the film Hellboy is neither returning to the shadowy depths or basking in public acceptance.
What there is of one
The plot concerns the return of the gimp-suited Nazi assassin and a film-noir femme fatale, first resurrecting the portal-opener, and then releasing a demon in a musuem, which Hellboy and some sort of psychic fish-man are sent to deal with. All I know of the psychic fish-man is that he’s voiced by the bloke who plays Niles Crane in Frasier, which means he’s impossible to take seriously. Not that you could take the presence of a psychic fish-man particularly seriously anyway. I’m sure he’s important in the comics.
So, this demon is a bit nasty, and when you kill one, it spawns two more, and they spawn two more, and they spawn two more, and so on, and on, and on. How do you destroy a demon who can double itself after you’ve killed it? Apparently, with fire. It didn’t work in the beginning of the film, but by the end of the film, it does. Fortunate, really, otherwise the filmmakers would have had a real plot conundrum on their hands! I’m not overly sure why these demons are in the film, come to think of it. They’re badly realised anyway—like something from an early, cheap episode of Buffy – clearly just men in rubber suits.
Let’s return to the portal-opener. He’s Rasputin, an historical figure that Boney M have managed to make entirely camp, and so a bit tricky to take on board here. He flicks in and out of the plot throughout most of the film. Literally, in fact—he just appears out of thin air and disappears into even thinner air, with not even a special effect to warn you. He’s still keen on opening that portal, but needs Hellboy’s help, so lures him to some sort of cathedral-type building in Russia. I think it was Russia, anyway – somewhere with lots of snow, at any rate, and as we all know, you only get snow in Russia. In an astonishingly anti-climactic ending, Hellboy nearly opens the portal to hell, but doesn’t, and kills Rasputin. And then there’s a giant
afterthought who he blows up with some grenades. And then it basically ends.
So, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this film. Ron Perlman is excellent as Hellboy, as is John Hurt as the scientist who finds Hellboy initially and raises him as a son. There’s a range of mostly-superfluous secondary characters that barely play a part, but probably kept the fans happy by their presence.
It almost worked out, but the whole film felt to me like a first draft—a draft that needed somebody to just sit down and go throught it saying to the director, “Look, this bit, it doesn’t make sense”. And they’d be saying that a lot.