I'm a big fan of Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" comics. His blocky, basic-black approach to illustrating accentuating the shadows, and his austere story-telling that takes six or seven atmospheric issues to tell a 20 minute story, tickle me. And the character is a hoot--a demon's son who is brought to this plane by Allied interference with a Nazi plot to bring a fighting demon to Earth, has grown up to be a cigar-chomping, booze-swilling jamoke who battles paranormal evil--while not buying the über-seriousness of its practitioners, and who, in moments of extreme duress (like having the ground crumble underneath you), utters the basic, "Aw, crap!"
When Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro brought "Hellboy" to the screen for Columbia Pictures, they did a fine job. First, they selected Ron Perlman, who's never griped about doing a role with a lot of make-up, to play the title character. I had quibbles with the movie--it felt like those early Marvel shows that stream-lined the comics creations to make them go down a bit easier with the public. "Hellboy" provided a lot of comic-book action--I was happy just to hear the character say "Aw, crap!" (which he did three times, perhaps gilding the lily), but they inserted a token white guy (Rupert Evans) for "audience-identification purposes," and created a rather conventional "beauty and the beast" story arc* between Hellboy and "fire-starter" hot-chick Liz Sherman (Selma Blair)--completely unnecessary, I thought, and further diluted Mignola's concept, making The Right Hand of Doom a big softy inside.
Four years later in this Universal release, "Red" and the rest of the BPRD gang are back (except for the token--he's supposedly been shipped off to Antarctica), and what made the first movie good, makes this one fun to watch at times, as well--Mignola's design sense, brought to steam-punk life by del Toro's artists (Agent Johann Kraus is introduced in this one--he's basically a bubble-headed suit filled with the spirit of a medium, but del Toro turns him into a clattering, hissing contraption), and the occassional bursts of action that don't go on for too long and manage to have a ferocious poetry to them. Particularly gleeful is an opening segment with Young Hellboy and some back-story that is intriguingly and imaginatively presented. Plus, once in the third act there's a surprising Mignola-like occurrence of out-sized proportions when our heroes get to Ireland for the Big Stand-off.
Danny Elfman provides the schizy score; sometimes it's big-band jazzy for a call to action, and sometimes it's just tub-thumping to get the adrenaline up. That, and a jokey walk-through of the BPRD HQ call to mind "Men in Black" territory.
And that love story between HB and Liz--it's more complicated than before and not much fun at all and, frankly, drags this movie down to the basement with chains. Then, gill-head Abe Sapien (Doug Jones is back, with his own voice) falls in love with a nether-world princess, and before long Abe and HB are getting tanked on Tecate (pretty obscure product placement there) and singing along to Barry Manilow (so help me, it's true!). Even Kraus turns misty. I found my demon-sized smile disappearing the farther along the movie went. Occassionally an intricate set-piece would boost my spirits**, but by the end any good feelings I had for this movie had gone to Hell.
I'll stick to the comics.
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is a rental. Crap!
Number of times "Aw, crap!" was said: 4
"Wilhelm" Moment: Right before Hellboy falls onto the police car
* I'm still mystified as to why this was necessary as it never appeared in the source material, and Perlman had already been down this road before. Perhaps it's something to attract the ladies. I don't know, but it's completely counter to the original character, and he's quirky and funny enough that this added business dilutes the whole concept.
** The end-set-piece--on a completely illogical stage composed of Mignola-out-sized tech-head gears that seems to be something ripped out of a Disney stage-show--is a fine piece of quick denouement. Then the exit music is Manilow agan...GAAH! It might take an exorcism of Hellboy proportions to get it out of my head.
Coming up: Olde reviews of very violent genre pictures, and we do some historical prep work for "The Dark Knight."