At the core of "Hellboy" -- the comic book "Hellboy," that is -- is Mike Mignola's artwork. Sometimes the story clicks, sometimes it doesn't, but what you're guaranteed every time you plunk down $2.95 for the Dark Horse comic is visual stimulation, eye candy. There will be shadows, there will be a slumped-shouldered red hero with a giant hand, and maybe, if you're lucky, there will be monkeys with guns.
And this, for me, is good enough for a comic book. But I can read a comic in ten minutes.
For a movie to offer similar visual stimulation but lack a coherent story is much more painful -- a movie is two hours. This is the problem with "Hellboy," the movie.
The movie starts off strong during World War II with Professor Broom and a group of gritty U.S. Army soldiers foiling a Nazi plot. The first appearance of Kroenen, an undead walking gas mask with an array of cutlery, sends a chill up your spine that hints that you may be in for something special. The first appearance of Abe Sapien offers a similar "look at that" feel, one that makes you think you're going to be dazzled for the next two hours.
Ron Perlman is great as Hellboy, and we see what Mignola and Del Toro were talking about when they said this was the one guy that was meant to be Hellboy. It is Perlman, and as unlikely as this character coming off well on-screen is, Perlman and the make-up team pull it off.
Professor Broom, though simply an old man, has the perfect look for the role. In terms of making the movie look like the comic, Hellboy gets high marks.
Where the movie fails is in the direction of the story and its villains. The first appearance of Sammael, a cross between the Predator and the evil dog agents of Gozer in Ghost Busters, is at best confusing. When Hellboy first discovers Sammael hanging from the ceiling, what the heck is it? At first, it's a spider, maybe? Then it jumps down, looks at Hellboy, and runs. So is it tough? A battle ensues, and somehow Hellboy defeats the enemy. Hopefully, we won't see any more of that thing, because the fight scenes are typical, nothing special, and slightly muddled. Kroenen and his knives are much cooler.
But the catch is Sammael multiplies like long-lost cousins after winning the lottery. There's more coming. And aside from Kroenen, who offers the real chills, the Predator wanna-be is the main foil for Hellboy through much of the movie. I'd rather see more Kroenen, but let's face it, Hellboy needs an abnormally sized monster to fight.
A high point of this movie happens in the middle, when the story is lighthearted and at times funny. The love triangle between Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Agent John Meyers makes for whimsical storytelling, especially when you throw in a 9-year-old boy with his mom's homemade cookies. There's a problem when one of the bright spots of a movie about Hellboy is the love triangle. The best should be all the parts when Hellboy shoots things and they explode.
The scenes where things are exploding, especially at the end of the movie, are difficult to comprehend. The entire final 30 minutes is difficult. Watch for this -- one moment Hellboy and the rest of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense are in a mausoleum. In typical Scooby-Doo fashion, the team gets split up, and are faced to go their separate ways. Liz Sherman doesn't lose her glasses, but the mausoleum goes from a 6 by 10 room to an underground lair that would make Indiana Jones proud. Suspension of disbelief, I understand, but it would have been nice to have a scene better portray a long journey into underground caverns.
At this point, we lose characters. Abe Sapien -- nice to know you, goodbye. This movie is called "Hellboy," not Abe Sapien or BPRD, so I guess we should just assume those other characters are fine. We'll catch up with them in part two.
The dramatic ending wraps up quickly and without much explanation. In fact, things are done and undone right and left, like the 22nd page of the comic got here too soon and we need to end this thing now.
"Hellboy" was not as bad as, say, "Daredevil," but it isn't as good as the free preview at Best Buy leads you to hope. If it were a comic book, you'd file it away and say to yourself, "at least it looked cool." But as is the nature of movies, afterwards you'll find yourself asking your friends, "ok, so why do you think that happened?"
If I'm hard on "Hellboy," it's because I wanted it to be good. Should comic book readers see the movie? Of course. Abe Sapien and Kroenen are worth the price of admission alone. But do yourself a favor, take it at face value and don't think too hard about the story, or else you'll walk away from it disappointed.