Monday, April 5, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Hellboy - A Review

Matthew 7: 1-5 says “Judge not, that ye be not judged”; a lesson in scripture that was sorely needed for some theatergoers this weekend, as my comic-shop employed brethren and I discovered. We were dispatched to various movie theaters in the area to distribute free copies of “Hellboy: The Corpse”, in order to help promote the latest film adaptation of a most excellent comic book as well as the comics themselves.

Sadly, some people did not see it that way. One member of our party was informed, most violently, that “COMICS ARE FOR CHILDREN” and that what she was handing out was “filth”. Another of us was saved from the angered rantings (and nearly a beating) of another Holy Roller, only by the timely intervention of the theater manager. The unluckiest of us all wound up handing out comics in front of the same theater where members of a local church group were handing out free bibles to everyone seeing “The Passion of the Christ”. Reportedly, the “Passion”-ate used most un-Christian language in chastising their “Satanic” brother.

The irony here is that all of this was done in protest of a comic and movie that ultimately has a more spiritual message at its’ heart than Mel Gibson’s film, which is ultimately more concerned with being a documentary on the shocking death of its’ title character than on his teachings about morality.

“Hellboy”, in contrast, begins and ends with a philosophical speculation on what it is that makes a man; his origins or his deeds? Are we damned from the start as the Calvinists believed? Or are we defined and redeemed by our actions, ever capable of our own salvation on both a spiritual and moral level?

Hellboy makes a case for the later, as we are introduced to the weird and wonderful world of Mike Mignola’s pride and joy. The origins of our hero are explained with a long attention to detail not seen since Spider-Man, which took nearly half its’ length to set up its title character. While Hellboy doesn’t take as long, it is no less the rich for its brief origin story, which introduces us to most of our villains as well as our title hero.

I’ve not read much Hellboy in the past, but the movie makes me eager to finish out the series. Based on what I have read, I can say that this movie remains truer to the comic that inspired it in dialogue, character and artistic design more than any other superhero movie before. This is both a blessing and a curse. For while Ron Perlman’s red skin stands out perfectly in the dark and rainy environments that make up most of the settings of the movie, many of the action shots are filmed too close up to be appreciated at times; particularly the underwater scenes in which merman doctor Abe Sapiens confronts “the Hound of Resurrection”. While this does perfectly ape Mike Mignola’s art style, it does make the film hard to see at points. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.

Another problem is that while the movie maintains the look, feel and plotting of a Hellboy comic, it does not move nearly as quickly as it can be read. This is not to say that it is ever dull, but it does give one the same feeling of strict adaptation as when watching a Harry Potter movie- where everything is shown and nothing is left to happen off-screen. While this is a treat to the fans and those with the patience and openness to see an entire epic on the screen, it is not for those who want non-stop action and cannot enjoy the simple scenes where a demonic being is spying on his girlfriend, while eating cookies and milk with a nine-year-old giving him a sympathetic ear.

Indeed, if I were to compare this movie to any other film ever, I would say that it is a spiritual heir to Ghostbusters and Men in Black.. It is an action movie for people who don’t like action movies, filled with wise-cracking characters that do a typical job stopping untypical things; exterminators of the supernatural, armed with holy water cocktails and crosses rather than the can of pesticide.

The cast does an excellent job and Perlman, a veteran of numerous projects requiring extensive make-up, is the perfect choice to play Big Red himself. He portrays Hellboy with the same lai back, “It’s A Living” attitude that defines the character even as he is being beaten senseless by a hentai tentacle demon. Selma Blair sets ever scene she’s in on fire and David Hyde Pierce (who apparently chose to go uncredited) gives the perfect voice to Abe Sapiens.

Overall, I’d say the film is a solid and a fitting tribute to its source material and damn me if this isn’t the best superhero movie since X-Men 2. If you go to see Hellboy, expect a devilishly good time!

Final Score: 8.0 out of 10.0.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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