Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hellboy (2004) ***

The thing about comic-book movies is that most of them suck. They are assembled by committee to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the PG-13 universe. Still, the nerd inside me wants these movies to be good, so if there is any chance of a comic-book movie being worthwhile, I will usually check it out. Sometimes it’s a complete disaster, like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Sometimes the product is brilliant, as with the X-Men movies. “Hellboy” fell somewhere in between for me, although probably more on the positive side overall.

I think the key to enjoying this movie is to just go with it. The bizarre premise is that the Russian sorcerer and advisor to the Czar, Rasputin, is not dead, but lives on through the power of some multi-dimensional, Cthulhu-like, destruction god. During one failed attempt to bring his god into our world during WWII, Rasputin instead brings over a baby demon with a stone hand. When Rasputin and the Nazis are foiled by Allied troops, the demon falls into the hands of an American paranormal expert. Instead of being raised to help bring about the end of the world, he is raised by a loving father and trained to save the world from various paranormal threats. Hellboy (Ron Perlman), along with a centuries-old, bibliophile fish-man, lives in a secret government facility, brought out Ghostbuster-style to fight the occasional demon, and sneaking out from time to time to visit his pyrokinetic girlfriend, Liz(Selma Blair). Meanwhile, Rasputin hasn’t given up his plans for Hellboy and his tentacled god.

“Hellboy” would be an absolute disaster if it weren’t for some excellent performances, particularly on the part of Ron Perlman as the cigar-smoking, gruff, stone-fisted Hellboy. He lends a world-weary humor and humanity to the character that allows the ridiculous plot to be fun rather than stupid. Rupert Evans is not particularly interesting as the government agent trying to learn to manage Hellboy, but the rest of the cast provides more than adequate support. Jeffrey Tamboor is his usual crackling self, and Selma Blair actually exudes enough sarcasm to hold her own with Perlman. Actually, one of the best performances comes from a guy named Ladislav Beran, playing a clockwork, Nazi assassin who doesn’t say a word, but moves in the creepiest way possible.

“Hellboy” doesn’t elevate the comic-book movie as a genre, but it does show how the genre looks when it is done right.

3 stars

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