In commemoration of the upcoming reboot, HELLBOY (2019), I’ve decided to take a trip back in time to revisit the original films. In addition, for my review of this sequel, click the following link: HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008).
Cast: Ron Perlman (FANTASTIC BEASTS , TANGLED , and upcoming films HELL ON THE BORDER  and MONSTER HUNTER ), Rupert Evans (JACKIE ), Selma Blair (LEGALLY BLONDE , and the upcoming AFTER ), Doug Jones (SHAPE/WATER , OUIJA: ORIGIN , MEN IN BLACK II , HOCUS POCUS , and upcoming films BENEATH THE LEAVES  and THE CIRCUIT ), and John Hurt (AMERICAN PASTORAL )
Director/Writer: Guillermo del Toro (SHAPE/WATER)
Composer: Marco Beltrami (QUIET PLACE , LOGAN , SHALLOWS , HITMAN 2 , THE WOLVERINE , TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES , and upcoming films LONG SHOT (2019) and FORD VS. FERRARI )
Cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro (LONDON FIELDS , SPAWN , and the upcoming THE VOYAGE OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE )
Editor: Peter Amundson (UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS )
This is my honest opinion of: HELLBOY
In 1944, a Nazi group led by Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) came close to unleashing an ancient and destructive being onto the world that is trapped in space, but a group of Allied soldiers, aided by occult expert Trevor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor), stop them from achieving their goals, and Rasputin gets sucked into space. However, something came through. A red-skinned infant creature that Trevor names Hellboy.
Sixty years later, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is an agent for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, specializing in protecting the city of New York from supernatural forces, all ran by the aging and dying Bruttenholm (John Hurt). However, it seems that the past has returned to cause chaos. It turns out, Rasputin’s closest allies from that time have returned and resurrected him to begin a chain of events that will enable him to unleash the demonic entity in space and starts with those that are closest to Hellboy, who is the key to his plans.
Well… yeah, this definitely exists. It’s not bad, but it’s not… great either. Some things hold up, and some things are dated.
Seriously, this movie did something that dated it even back in 2004. Opening text and an opening narration. Holy shit, I don’t think even M. Night Shyamalan ever did something that contrived. Or… did he? Wait… no, LAST AIRBENDER read the opening text to us, so that’s worse. Never mind that statement, but you get my meaning. Opening texts are already annoying (for my tastes) and narrations are tricky if the visuals aren’t strong enough to stand on their own. In this case, they were. The opening sequence of the movie lasts about fifteen minutes. A narration would have only been necessary if the footage was cut down to only a couple of minutes, not fifteen of them. Everything played out on screen explained everything just fine. I give credit to only a few things. One, the action was pretty cool and I loved the design of Kroenen (Landislav Beran), what with his emotionless metal mask, his Nazi uniform, and his twin blade on his arms. Honestly, Kroenen might be one of the most consistently awesome things in this movie.
In retrospect, this movie’s opening perfectly summarizes the mixed bag that is this movie.
Let’s talk about Hellboy himself. Not that I know anything about the comic book character, but this seems like casting from Heaven. Perlman is a big, deep-voiced, imposing kind of dude. Making him a character from Hell, looking like he should be the bad guy, but is actually a smack-talking, big-gun wielding good guy? Shit, man, this was almost too good to be true. In a lot of ways, it’s not. He plays the role absolutely perfectly. Hellboy is definitely lovable. Perlman delivers charm and that keeps you always wanting to watch him. He kicks ass, he saves kittens in peril, he does everything that a superhero should be doing. Something that other superheroes weren’t always doing around that time. Not a whole lot of his lines were particularly hilarious, but you still liked him enough.
However, where Hellboy loses me is that it’s established that he’s supposed to be “barely out of his twenties,” but acts more like a prepubescent brat. He sneaks out of BPRD to visit Liz (Selma Blair), like a teenager, and the way he talks to her feels like a child admitting a crush. Even when she starts hanging out with Myers (Rupert Evans), he gets freakishly jealous and stalks them on their not-date like this is a bad rom-com. It’s a wonder how they have romantic chemistry at all. Even if Hellboy is technically “of age” to date Liz, one would think that she would want to date a man with the mindset of a man. Not a boy. I know, I know “Hell…BOY,” but I didn’t like this.
That’s another thing I didn’t like. The tone was everywhere with this movie. It’s like, it wants to be a comedy, but the jokes fall flat. It’s also trying to be dark and disturbing. Actually, this is where the movie shines the best. Once you see things like Kroenen without eyelids, lips, a terribly cracked body, and the implication that he has no blood and it’s all replaced by dust, a talking skeleton thing, plus that final monster in the climax, that shit is deliciously weird and satisfyingly del Toro at his finest. However, one minute will be an action scene, big drama, people dying, the works. And then literally the next shot is a happy-peppy scene with Liz taking pictures of Myers and sitting outside the window of cab. Again, like a bad rom-com. Seriously, what was up with this movie and getting interrupted by bad rom-com tropes??
For a movie that should be all monster fighting, you’d think that this movie would really stretch out del Toro’s penchant for creative-looking creatures for Hellboy to fight. But no, it’s only two. He fights the regenerating dog thing and the final monster. I guess we could count the human-esk bad guys, but only one out of three of them are memorable. In place of that possible fighting, we get bad rom-com drivel. I would also say that maybe Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones) is a creative dude, but now that I’ve seen THE SHAPE OF WATER, both Abe’s design and even character feels pretty outdated. Even for back then, he was just the smart one who also likes rotten eggs. Barely a character.
I have to say that this had surprisingly poor direction for del Toro. You know that shot where Hellboy punches that car and it flips over? Why is it in slow-mo? Wouldn’t the effect be more intense if it played out in real time? The whole point of slow-mo is to show off the coolness of a stunt that needs to be seen because if it did play out in real time, we wouldn’t be able to see the stunt properly. But that’s not the case here. All we’re seeing is a car flip. If anything, a real time shot would make it more intense. Or how about where Kroenen makes his reappearance fighting a group of museum security guards, armed with guns, and get up close enough for him to cut them down. To make matters worse, it’s not like Kroenen kills them in one quick slash, which would be dumb enough as is, but he kills them one at a time and none of them even attempt to back away and take cover. They literally just stand there letting him kill them with no real resistance.
If the direction wasn’t bad enough, so was the writing. I mean, there’s lines that go, “Even if we rounded up all the freaks, there’d still be one left… you.” Already, the line is very typical 80s bully dialog, but we already knew what this character was implying when he said it to Hellboy. And this same character gets attacked by one of the main villains of the movie, barely scratched by an attack, and I shit you not, says, “What’s wrong with you?!” Insert face-palm here. I’m so glad del Toro learned from his mistakes here in the future because his writing in this movie was painful sometimes.
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ And here’s something that’s kind of frustrating, I didn’t feel for Broom’s death. You wanna know why? His relationship with Hellboy was never really explored. Literally, outside of the opening sequence, the two characters never sit down and talk. They never connect. Hell, they barely share any scenes together. Why is that opening sequence where we get the most chemistry? ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Now, before anyone starts thinking that I don’t like this movie… well, I can’t say you’re wrong, but I can say that there are some saving graces.
Remember that resurrecting dog-thing that I referenced? Well, it’s not completely CGI. There some shots where it’s an animatronic and a dude in a suit, specifically Brian Steele, who has put on many creature costumes over his long career, including the Underworld movies, Resident Evil, PREDATORS, and the most recent TV show LOST IN SPACE, among so many others. So that’s really awesome.
Also, for the longest time, I’ve had the biggest crush on Selma Blair, and this movie only reaffirms why. She was brooding, long black hair, and, you know, igniting everyone on blue f***ing fire! I really miss seeing her on the big screen and wish Hollywood gave her more of a chance. Not that she’s not working at all, but she’s kind of in that same ball park as Julia Stiles, as that bad-ass woman who didn’t get to be bad-ass for very long. Also, Liz seem to have the more interesting background and character. Yeah, she was moody, but at least it was because she was bullied and had uncontrollable powers that resulted in the deaths of other kids. Hellboy is a child, Myers is so whiny that I’m pretty sure Luke Skywalker was more butch, and Abe and the villains are just… there. Liz is the only character with more than two dimensions.
By the way, that second round of Hellboy fighting the demon dog thing in the subway with innocent people around, that was the same subway set used in UNDERWORLD, wasn’t it? I’m actually a little giddy that I noticed that.
Overall, this movie is not very good. Compared to most superhero movies at the time, this is probably one of the better ones, but not by much. I give credit that it’s got its own brand of charm, thanks in large part to Perlman’s pitch the action can be fun, I do enjoy seeing Blair on the big screen, and Kroenen is a great secondary villain. Even moreso than the actual villains of the movie. But this movie is very subpar compared to del Toro’s later works. Where more action would have been preferred, there’s romantic comedy tropes. Where characters who needed chemistry would have made them more emotionally gripping, there’s bad character writing. The villains are boring, some of the heroes are boring, and it’s just a poorly executed film in many different ways. It’s not awful, but it’s nowhere near the quality of superhero films of today.
My honest rating for HELLBOY: a weak 3/5