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Review byMatthew Turner31/08/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 122 mins

Extremely enjoyable comic-book romp – impressively directed with a witty, imaginative script and a terrific central performance from Perlman.

Hellboy is based on the acclaimed Dark Horse Comics series by Mike Mignola and directed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Blade II, Mimic). A long-time fan of the comics, Del Toro was apparently offered a much bigger budget if he’d cast a star in the lead, but stuck to his guns in favour of gruff-voiced character actor Ron Perlman. It’s a decision that has paid off beautifully as Hellboy is the character Perlman was clearly born to play.

Nazis Open Portal To Hell

The film starts with a war-time prologue designed to bring everyone up to speed. In 1945, a secret society of Nazis open a portal to Hell, intending to unleash the apocalypse, but the allies -including Professor ‘Bloom’ Bruttenholm - intervene and the only thing that comes through the portal is a red baby demon with horns and a tail.

The Professor duly calms it with chocolate and the U.S. soldiers name it ‘Hellboy’. The Professor then raises the demon to fight the forces of evil.

We then flash forward to the present: Professor Bloom (now played by John Hurt) is still alive and in charge of the FBI’s Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is the star employee, a hulking, cigar-chomping, red-skinned beast with a giant stone hand, who files down his horns so as to appear more normal.

His colleagues include sensitive “Mer-man” Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce) and guilt-ridden pyrokinetic Liz (Selma Blair), on whom Hellboy has something of a crush. In addition, Bloom throws new recruit Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) into the mix, which serves both as a way of introducing the characters for the audience and also as a love-triangle element.

The action kicks off pretty quickly, as Broom discovers that someone is doing a spot of portal-opening again and Hellboy battles Sammael, a savage CGI Beast capable of resurrecting itself once killed.

Fanboys Make Best Directors

As with Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man and X-Men, Hellboy proves that the biggest fanboys make the best directors for comic-book fantasy material. Del Toro creates a colourful, atmospheric world that works beautifully. He also packs the film with delightful little character touches that will reward closer viewings (although the product placement grates a bit and it’s odd to see Hellboy knocking back cans of Red Bull).

The action sequences are superb, although the self-replicating nature of Sammael means that the CGI Beasts get a little tiresome after a while. More effective – and more terrifying - is the character of Kroenen (Ladislav Beran), a masked killing machine with dust in his veins and a wind-up key in his heart.

Perlman completely inhabits the character of Hellboy, even under heavy make-up, delivering a superb performance that is as touching as it is comic. His scenes with Liz are especially good, particularly when he finally kisses her and she bursts into flames. There’s also strong support from John Hurt and Jeffrey “Hey now!” Tambor as FBI director Tom Manning.

In short, Hellboy is an enjoyable comic-book with an infectious streak of fun running through it – it should delight both fans and newcomers alike. Bring on the sequel.

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Content updated: 21/11/2019 00:24

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