Hellboy began life in the pages of a Dark Horse comic written and drawn by Mike Mignola, a demon baby brought to Earth but rescued by the forces of good and tasked with protecting the world from evil. With Guillermo del Toro at the helm, 2004 saw the release of a live action film featuring the character. And an enjoyable film it was, too.
We meet Hellboy on his first arrival on Earth during World War 2, an unexpected addition to our world after the plan of Rasputin (you know, the mad monk) to bring forth a demon from another realm and instigate Hell on Earth goes wrong. Standard villainy, right there. His initial efforts are thwarted and the story picks up decades later in the present. Hellboy is now working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) alongside the fishy Abe Sapien and the fiery Liz Sherman (Selma Blair).
Ron Perlman, a regular collaborator with del Toro, is perfectly cast as Hellboy. He is sardonic and generally insecure, yet more than capable of being an action hero. Unless another Ron Perlman emerges, he is almost exclusively the only person capable of playing character in my book. Rather cannily, the fact he is a big, red demon is almost of no importance. Hellboy that is, not Ron Perlman.
Del Toro is a notable director for both his extensive attention to detail and bringing to life the wild reaches of his imagination, and Hellboy is yet another example of how creative his mind can be. Much of the film is presented in a washed out, grim and grimy vision of the world, stemming from those initial scenes of Hellboy’s discovery during World War 2.
The supporting cast are no less excellent. His voice may be dubbed over by Frasier’s David Pierce Kelley, but it’s the live action performance from Doug Jones that brings resident water dweller Abe Sapien to life. Thankfully he was allowed to voice his own dialogue in the second film. Selma Blair is Liz Sherman, a woman who has telekinetic powers that have a tendency to get a bit… fiery. Our way into this world is through Rubert Evans’ turn as John Myers, an FBI agent who joins the agency and has a thing for Liz. That gets awkward because so does Hellboy. That’s not going to end well.
More often than not this sort of film is let down by a lacklustre villain. Not so here. In fact you get three for your money. The mad monk Rasputin, Ilsa von Haupstein and Karl Kroenen. I’ll throw in Sammael as well for giggles, the hell demon who has the ability to re-spawn and multiply after every death.
It is, thankfully, an example of a comic book adaptation that has everything working for it. In terms of cast, script, director and visual flair. It’s dark when it needs to be, but always remembers to balance this out with a cracking fantasy adventure story and real depth to the characters.