Hellboy (2004)

Another comic book adaptation is brought to the big screen. It’s not a familiar Marvel universe, and things are definitely not “been there, seen that”. Still, the unusual casting, the direction, and quirky geek references make this a worthy entry.

It seems that every comic book out there longs to get on the big screen, open with $50 million, and gain thousands of new readers over the weekend. Sometimes, this works (remember how quickly “Superman” got to $200 million), very rarely it works again (“X-men United” was well-received and it made decent dough). With “Hellboy”, however, I’m a little torn. I would like the saga to continue, and am impressed by character development, but it seems the writers have ended up in a corner. The movie spends so much time establishing the characters and setting up the first showdown (all good by me), by the time it’s over, there’s no setup for the sequel.

Let me restate that – “Hellboy” is open-ended, but there’s no looming conflict there, to threat. We just know the adventures will continue, but have no clue about the villains, only the existing conflicts between the characters. Then again, having never read the comic book, maybe these conflicts are at the core of Hellboy, and the villains are on the side. In this case, the movie worked.

It reminded me a lot of “The Hulk”, by spending way too much time on the characters, and delaying the payoff. It also kept the tone darker than usual. I like darker – makes more sense that superheroes have their own pile of issues, and it’s not all glamour and cute girls. I did find the pace a bit slow at times, even lazy, but just like in “Hulk”, it worked for me.

After all, Hellboy (Ron Perlman – Blade II, Enemy at the Gates, Alien: Resurrection) is not from this world – he doesn’t play by our rules, and in many cases, doesn’t care for our values. Ok, maybe he’s indifferent to pancakes (BTW, this among many other “nudges” were very effective and had me giggling). So why should he spring into action and rush to save humanity? Especially, if his love interest (Selma Blair – In & Out, Scream 2, Cruel Intentions) is not interested in him that much.

His reluctance and hesitation are well-done in the movie. My problem is that how it affects the overall pace – perhaps more of it could be reflected in dialogue or in his body language, instead of just slowing down the action to allow for “brooding time”. Remember in the very first “Batman” as Michale Keaton was kicking ass, his eyes were sad or empty, and just showing them was enough to imply that he’s not really present. My other problem with “Hellboy” is its reliance on special effects. By the last showdown, it was just too much CGI. We get it, slimy things can look real slimy, and explosions are real graphic. We get it. Bring back the story and the characters. Or, maybe just cut down on CGI, and do at least 30% of that particular sequence with conventional cameras.

Other than these two complaints, I liked the movie a lot. The cast is ballanced – they didn’t just rely on Perlman to deliver the juiciest lines. The comic relief (Jeffrey Tambor – Arrested Development, Larry Sanders Show) is wonderful and walks thru every scene without a hitch. The villains (Karen Roden – also of Blade II fame) are typically “eeeevil”, and powerful. I really want to see where they take the movie from here, and am afraid the next installment will be packed with “filler” material, or unnecessary characters. Guillermo Del Toro has created a noble replacement to Batman and Hulk – a sulking, hesitant superhero who honestly has other things to do, but just happens to stick around to save humanity. Not everyone likes such attitude, but it makes sense to me.

Next time, just pick up the pace, and go easy on special effects. Trust your characters and story. They’re really good.

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