Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Hellboy holds his head high above the mass of superhero characters thanks to a terrific performance by Ron Perlman."

Snatched out of Hell as a baby in a stunning opening sequence, Hellboy, raised by a doting professor under the auspices of a paranormal investigations squad, is a six foot five inch bright red demon with a stone hand, a regular government-dispatched vanquisher of evil who loves kittens, files down his horns in an attempt to fit in, and really just wants to be able to go outside and live like everybody else. Although this cinematic adaptation is weakly plotted, with flimsy villains and far too many action cliches, Hellboy holds his head high above the mass of superhero characters thanks to a terrific performance by Ron Perlman.

Proving wrong those who claim that comic-inspired movies should be all about special effects, Perlman presents us with a complex individual who is bitter, frustrated, laconic and charming, experienced in certain aspects of the world yet still immature and vulnerable, most at ease in the company of a nine year old child. His hard-done-by avenger is ably supported by Selma Blair, wisely understated as depressed pyrokinetic Liz; her condition limits her onscreen charisma, but clever scripting and subtle acting effectively conveys the history between the two of them.

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Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are unable to match these powerful central performances. John Hurt works fairly well as the professor, Doug Jones is passable (albeit often irritating) as aquatic mutant Abe Sapien, and Rupert Evans hasn't much choice but to play his naive secret agent blankly; but there is a lack of substance on the other side, where the story assumes it and depends on it. It's unfortunate to see a character like Grigori Rasputin, who has been played so brilliantly onscreen in the past (by Christopher Lee and Tom Baker, in particular), played like wallpaper, pasted on the reputation of the real man.

His surgically addicted zombie Nazi sidekick spends too much time tediously swishing blades around and not enough time being genuinely creepy. As for his (bottle) blonde Nazi occult-groupie, she's sufficiently personality-free that she might easily be replaced by Patsy Kensit for an all-singing all-dancing performance of (Stuart's suggestion) Blame it on the Hellboy. These characters are either boring or farcical, never horrific as they ought to be. Some of this rubs off onto their colleagues; we see too much of the same monsters, and some good fight choreography doesn't excuse the repetition. The really big scary monsters are beautifully rendered in accordance with the artwork of those in HP Lovecraft's circles, but they're nothing new.

That said, Hellboy is stunning to look at, its central characters perfect renditions of those in the comics. Some dodgy bits of CGI and wire-work can be more easily tolerated when one is able to delight in the detail of background patterns and images, all immaculately researched from occult traditions real and fictional. Although there are one or two awful bits of dialogue (presumably provided by another writer), the bulk of the script is very well crafted, so we don't get bogged down in exposition. This does a great deal to help the character actors do their thing.

Ultimately, Hellboy is not the great thing which many fans were hoping for, but it's a very promising film; with the right story, it could herald a much better sequel.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
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Hellboy packshot
A comic book hero with alien ancestry battles an undead Rasputin for the soul of man.
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Read more Hellboy reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ***
David Haviland *1/2

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Guillermo del Toro, based on the comic books by Mike Mignola

Starring: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, Karel Roden, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Brian Steele

Year: 2004

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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