Setting the scene well enough in its grim and rainy opening, Hellboy plays with the tone and vision of director Guillermo del Toro nicely. His gritty opening that reclaims portions of the World War 2 iconography with the fantastical elements that the Nazis and Rasputin never had nor built, especially not in Scotland, makes for a handful of intense, interesting depictions. It borders on B-Movie with its glossy costumes and comic creativity. This is how a comic book film should look, and it is comforting to see at least someone has adapted the darker tones into the fluffy, lighter tones that can come true when handled with care. Fantastical elements crashing right into the path of human history and that dithering mythology that causes manic speculation.
Hellboy does all of that well, and the effectiveness of it throughout this feature adaptation is admirable. With del Toro at the helm, there is a fantastic mix of action, creativity and suitable comic variety. Why American soldiers are running at a man with blades for hands when they have perfectly good rifles on them is tantalisingly dense. Perhaps they are waterlogged. Audiences will have to figure that one out for themselves. No sympathy for self-made heroes. But that is exactly what Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is not. That is the defining quality that this feature provides. Hellboy is not necessarily a bad character, but he is a fairly bad person. He feels unwaveringly sick of life and annoyed at the prospect of having to save the world. Perlman sells that quite well.
The rest of the cast offer tremendous work also. Jeffrey Tambor and John Hurt are the old guards, brought in on name value to sell some of the spottier, slower moments. It is not just action for Hellboy, and the deluge of information needed to make sense of this story is delivered with just the right entertainment value, while also understanding the riches that are to come from the violence built up by these story elements. Even moments of pure horror come through, with some chilling moments leading to the introduction of the eponymous hero. The dialogue at times could use some work, but when you have Selma Blair and Rupert Evans in the supporting cast, just about anything is possible for this Dark Horse Comics adaptation.
That it is. There are strong components within Hellboy that are usually let down by something beyond its control. A line of dialogue here may throw a spanner in the works of a well-maintained machine, but they are never enough to derail the journey entirely. There are some incredible spectacles on display in Hellboy, and it all feels a bit grimy. A bit mucky and riddled with filth. That is a great choice for this adaptation, and the uncovering of a great conspiracy in the form of this titular beast is an entertaining one. Perlman and del Toro pair together very nicely, with notable moments not as frequent as they should be for the half-man, half-devil, but more than enough calamitous moments and surprising detail to warrant a good time for those that know nothing of this comic book character. It’ll appease those that do know him, probably, but who reads anymore, anyway?