In 1944, a young Professor Broom accompanies a military unit on a mission to stop Rasputin (Karel Roden) and The Third Reich from carrying out a magical ritual that will end the world. They succeed—though Rasputin’s loving assistant, Ilsa Haupstein (Biddy Hodson) and the freakish assassin Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) escape—and find a horned, red baby they name Hellboy. Now, Rasputin has returned from the dead to finish his plan and it is up to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, staffed by the grown Hellboy (Ron Perlman), elderly Broom (John Hurt), pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), amphibious Abe Sapien (Doug Jones / voice: David Hyde Pierce) and Agent Myers (Rupert Evans) to stop him.
Hellboy is the best of Ghostbusters layered on the best of Men in Black added to the best of the X-Men, all swirled about the best of Lovecraft, decked out in a world that’s what a steampunk Tim Burton would design on his best day. It is a celebration of all things pulp and geeky and it is non-stop fun. Nor is it empty joy, though if in filming the question ever arose, “Should this scene dwell on fun or on meaning?” fun won out.
Perlman was the perfect choice for the immature red devil with a soft heart. He’s as good with the gentle moments as he is with the quips, and there are a lot of quips. I could praise each actor in turn as everyone is excellent, but besides Perlman, the compliments need to go to director Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth). This was his dream project and it shows. Everything is meticulously done, creating the most beautiful comic book movie I’ve seen. Just gazing at the set dressing of the library is entertainment enough. The creatures—be they blue, empathic fish-men, multi-eyed demon dogs, or Nazi, zombie assassins—look fantastic.
Those weird and wonderful creatures look great in the many, exuberant action scenes. And all that clawing and shooting isn’t just visual mastery. There’s something being shown about the characters, or just a great joke, with every titanic punch.
I could have done without Agent Myers. He’s our portal character. Portal characters can be very effective, leading us into a strange world. There’s no need for exposition tossed into the air when a portal character can ask the questions we need answered. But the portal character needs to be more than just a portal. Normally he’s the protagonist. But in Hellboy, he’s an extra. Hellboy is the center of all the action scenes. The plot involves several characters, but not the agent. And the emotional weight of the film is carried by Hellboy, Liz Sherman, and Professor Broom. But Myers isn’t a bad character and he doesn’t take up so much time that he gets in the way of the father/son and romantic relationships
The “extended” or “director’s” cut is now the normal one, but you may run into the theatrical cut. As far as character and story, there’s no difference between the two. The added ten minutes are nice, but change nothing. Still, the longer version is the better one simply because it inserts needed pauses. The movie is so fast paced that a few moments to rest to take in what’s happened make for a better experience.
It was followed by Hellboy II: The Golden Army.