At the close of World War II, in the ruins of a remote Scottish castle, a clutch of Adolf Hitler's officers, soldiers, and some of his "Supernatural advisors" are preparing a machine to open the portal to hell. Using engineering science, they hope to break through to a level that chanting latin from a book, alone, cannot achieve. They want to bring forth Lovecraftian beasts through a torn portal in their reality to ours.
Making their way towards this scene, in the night and rain, is a group of American GI's led by a young Supernaturalist named Professor "Broom" Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor). They are there to stop the Nazis before the portal is opened. The leader of the American soldiers, Sgt. Whitman (Angus MacInnes: HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II) is dubious of Broom's value to the platoon and mission; and may be unsure of the mission itself; but is apparently following orders from higher-ups who aren't present at the battle.
Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro along with co-writer Peter Briggs do a good job here. Both men were canny enough not to make Sgt. Whitman the "Exposition Boy" of this opening scene, which is a preamble to the rest of the film. Professor Bruttenholm is more concerned with explaining to the Seargent why he knows what he is doing - so the Sergeant won't abandon the mission - than trying to explain why they are there. The Sgt. knows why they are there, he just finds it unbelievable. What the Nazis are actually doing is all the reason we need to know that whatever they are up to must be stopped - because it looks really bad ass and the Nazis want it - so it can't be good. Let's face it: Whatever the Nazis are doing, it ain't world peace and good will toward all.
In addition to the night, lightening, rain, castle ruins, magic, machines, and soldiers is the power of the man who is bringing all of this together. The fabled Russian oracle, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden: BLADE II), is the Necromancer who calls everything into being through his knowledge of the occult and machines that have enough raw power to do what he wants. Everything works, the machines rip open the fabric of time and space, the chanting calls go out, and the beasts on the other side, apparently encased (trapped?) in some kind of massive crystal, open their eyes: The demons have awakened.
Then the Americans show up, guns a-blazing, and ruin the Nazi's good time. A cool comic book battle unfolds and this is not a bad thing as HELLBOY is based on a really cool comic! Loss of life is heavy on both sides but thanks to Gigori accidentally getting sucked up into his own machine and whisked to the other side, the portal closes, the Nazis give up, and the Americans once again reign victorious. Everybody is pleased. Well, everybody who was on the winning side at least and that's all that ever matters.
Well, everybody except Professor Bruttenholm.
"The portal was open too long," he warns. "Something may have come through!" A spooky search through the ruins reveals that the young professor is right. Something has come through: A baby. Not just any baby, but a child of Hell. The soldiers, after shooting at him, discover he likes Baby Ruth candy bars - something that Professor Bruttenholm, with his years of supernatural experience, was canny enough to bring along in abundance.
The soldiers name him Hellboy, which sounds like a terrible thing to name a baby until you consider that he could have been named Reginald.
We jettison forward 60 years into the future during the movie credits while the kid grows up and Merry Mishaps occur with regularity.
Well what's been happening all that time?
To find out, we need to meet Exposition Boy in the form of John Myers (Rupert Evans). This FBI agent is assigned to a new place of work. The Newark New Jersey Sanitation Facilities.
Ahh, but the massive, heavily secure building is really just a ruse for what the place actually is: an arm of the FBI known as The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). All kinds of freakish creatures live here with all kinds of freakish powers and, in addition to which, there are all kinds of freakish things here for them to use as weapons against those paranormal things that mean to do us (you and me) harm. This kind of makes you wonder what people in the actual Newark New Jersey Sanitation Union think when they drive by this place.
Myers comes at a bad time. Hellboy's love interest, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair: SCREAM 2), has put some space between her and Hellboy by leaving the BPRD and taking up in a mental hospital for some rest and to get her head together. Being someone who spontaneously erupts in explosive fire whenever she gets even marginally excited, Liz carries a lot of mental baggage. Being arduously loved by a hulking giant who isn't even a member of her species doesn't make life any easier.
Now, call me crazy, but if she wants to put all of her guilt of inadvertantly exploding innocent people around her to rest, was it really such a good idea for her to check herself into a public HOSPITAL??? What was she THINKING?
And what about the BPRD? They are this top secret organization. Was it really such a good idea to allow Liz to check herself into a public hospital where, just by having a bad dream, she could kill unknown numbers of people in a very public way? What were they THINKING???
By this part of the movie, its hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. On the one hand, Rasputin has returned from the evil dimension and is going around with his girlfriend, Ilsa (Biddy Hodson: LOADED, BEDAZZLED) and henchman, Kroenen (Ladislav Beran: BLADE II), putting together some nefarious plan. Together with their helldoggies, they kill a few select people in not so selective ways.
On the other hand, Liz is staying at the mental hospital which is full of staff and patients who don't realize that all their problems will soon be over. She has a Rasputin induced nightmare which causes her to create an excited fire bubble around her (far enough away from her not to set her person or clothes on fire). The result is her blowing window smashing fire out of every damn orifice in the building (and making new orifices) and, obviously, killing everyone in the building except herself. She returns to the BPRD resigned and depressed. Hellboy is happy to see her but that doesn't lift her spirits and you wouldn't want to be around her if it did!
The action sequences in HELLBOY are first rate, and likewise the special effects, although the plotholes are enormous and the personal interaction is nearly non-existent. This is a real shame because the movie tries to draw so much upon the human element, especially in regards to what Hellboy has learned from his surrogate father, Professor Bloom.
The relationship between Hellboy and Bloom never clicks
because Bloom is punishing Hellboy throughout the flick. Liz is also keeping
her distance but you never get the feeling that she is resisting temptation.
There is just no chemistry between Hellboy and Liz or Hellboy and Bloom,
and the only other "freak" there is Abraham "Abe"
Sapiens (In the suit: Doug Jones: MIMIC, BUG BUSTER, MEN
IN BLACK II -
Part of the reason that things never click on an emotional level is that human life - which Hellboy and his group are supposed to be defending, never seems to matter. Hellboy, Abe, and even Liz, the superheroes of the organization, are so wrapped up in themselves that they can't connect with anyone else - not even each other. John Myers tries to get inside their lives but remains a cypher to all of them.
Through the course of the movie, human staff members of the BPRD get torn apart, blown away, or fall to their death and nobody cares. In one scene an innocent BPRD agent falls screaming to his death and it is played for laughs. In the very next scene, happening only moments later, Hellboy and his boss, Dr. Tom Manning (Jefferey Tambor: SATURDAY THE 14th, TEACHING MRS. TINGLE), are discussing the merits of matches over lighters when smoking a cigar. Watching a movie about a bunch of self-absorbed sad-sacks wallowing in self-pity, indifferent to the human misery and death Within Their Group, gets to be a drag after a while - even if they do have super powers.
is the best Hellboy no doubt. And Guillermo del Toro loves Mike Mignola's
comic book creation, no question. But the screenplay by del Toro and Peter
Briggs leaves no room for the much vaunted "Human interest"
that this movie was supposedly catering to, and without that, who cares
if the world goes to hell?
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