Hellboy, a welcome new comic book superhero on the movie block, is a big, tough, fiery-red demon raised to fight on the side of Good in its eternal battle with Evil. Not surprisingly, Guillermo del Toro's cinematic version of Mike Mignola's comic books took my breath away. For a long time now, I've admired this filmmaker's skill in creating dark and fascinating worlds on the big screen. Still, I didn't expect to be this excited about Hellboy.
In my favorite del Toro film, Mimic, its scary creatures frightened me almost as much as the terrifying lions in The Ghost and the Darkness. Because of del Toro's special touch, I felt like I was standing near Mira Sorvino in the shadowy depths of the subway where those incredible horrors lurked. And I had a similar feeling in Hellboy -- only more so. Whether spying on the Nazis in 1944 as they dabble in black magic to help them take over the world or watching Hellboy (Ron Perlman) tangle with some of the ugliest monsters ever filmed, I found everything to be up close and personal.
Adding to Hellboy's escapist fun is the appearance of humor in the most unexpected places. After talking about his unsatisfactory love life to a young boy, our hero says, "Why should I take advice from you? You're only nine years old!" But emotionally, Hellboy isn't much older than that himself. Although he's a senior citizen (plus) in calendar years, he's the Peck's Bad Boy of superheroes. That's one of the reasons the Professor (John Hurt) who raised him keeps his charge locked away between assignments for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Design.
Naturally, Hellboy reacts like any adolescent who's been grounded. He pouts. What he really wants is to be with Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a former BPRD colleague, who now resides in a mental health institution where she's trying to deal with her firestarting tendencies. Actually, Liz and Hellboy make a good team. He can't be burned (at least physically, being from Hell and all). And she never catches fire, either, no matter how much damage her blazing talent causes.
After the Professor hires John Myers (Rupert Evans), a "pure-of- heart" young man to be Hellboy's nanny, jealousy of Myers' relationship with Liz becomes a problem for Hellboy. Nevertheless, these three join forces to stop Rasputin (Karel Roden) from opening the portal of Hell once more and bringing on the Apocalypse.
Did I mention that Hellboy has perfect casting? Perlman, who's best known for TV's Beauty and the Beast, overcomes his weird make-up with a droll delivery of one-liners like "This is as good as I'll ever look -- but I'll never look worse." Blair (Legally Blonde) provides a beautiful contrast with her soulful eyes and soft voice. Newcomer Myers projects a naive sensitivity while Hurt (Alien) captivates us with his appealing British accent and caring paternal attitude. But the most stunning character in Hellboy is played by mime Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde Pierce (Frasier). This creative duo becomes "Abe Sapiens," a kind of psychic aqua-man who glides in and out of scenes with a style and grace that could win over Esther Williams fans.
Eat your heart out, Hulk; watch your back, Spider-Man. Hellboy promises to heat up the superhero competition.
(Released by Columbia Pictures/Revolution Studios and rated "PG-13" for sci-fi violence and frightening images.)