“In the coldest regions of space, the monstrous entities Ogdru Jahad - the Seven Gods of Chaos - slumber in their crystal prison, waiting to reclaim Earth... and burn the heavens.”
The recent success of comic book adaptations has, expectedly, resulted in an exponential amount of these productions being green-lit. Not only do we see colourful favourites like Superman and Spiderman CGIing their way onto our screens but we also get less well-known but perhaps more acclaimed (and more mature) stories being brought to life, like Sin City and the upcoming V for Vendetta.
Hellboy is a rather strange mixture of the two, featuring a big, brutish, colourful superhero who fights supervillains across the globe and all the way to Hell, but it carries a story that is far removed from what you would expect from the likes of Stan Lee. I guess you have to put that down to the fact that it was written by Mark Mignola (and can be compared to Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman, both on its page and on the big screen), the kind of scribe whose characters do not have stupid names like Lex Luthor, Lois Lane and Lana Lang, let alone alter-egos.
Brought to Earth straight from hell when a reborn Rasputin opens a portal during the Second World War, Hellboy is part of a secret initiative who patrol the streets in search of demons. The brute force of the team, he is a big, red muscly warrior who sports two sawn-off horns and a single giant fist and is almost invulnerable to heat. He also has a surprisingly dry wit, a penchant for no-nonsense brutishness and a very big gun which he calls the Samaritan. His team include a man with gills, Abe, a pyrokinetic girl who can spontaneously cause things to catch fire - Liz - and his mentor, the scientist who established the whole covert department. Between them they tackle evil in many forms, but the latest threat comes in the form of the same seemingly immortal Rasputin who opened the portal to hell all those decades ago and is determined now to open it once more.
Aside from the main story, which involves plenty of big, nasty-looking monsters, clockwork blade-wielding assassins and frantic eventful chases on foot, what really gives the story an edge is the very human relationship between Hellboy and his on-off girlfriend, Liz. Between that and the dry, sarcastic wit they give the lead, the movie has a comic edge to its gritty action that makes it a cut above your standard superhero affair.
Ron Perlman is on top form as the lead character, Hellboy. Heavily laden with prosthetics, he is super-cool and tough-as-nails, gritting his teeth and cracking wise in the face of adversity. He's always brought something to the roles that he has taken on, whether his brief but colourful part in Enemy at the Gates, or fighting aliens in Alien Resurrection. Here he is perfectly cast and hopefully we will see him return to the character in the near future.
Selma Blair acts almost comatose in her portrayal of the emotionless Liz, whose anger often turns to fire, John Hurt proves he still has it as the mentor and founder of the secret paranormal investigations unit, Karel Roden (who played one of the irritating villains in the disappointing De Niro thriller 15 Seconds) makes for quite an interesting Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) and Rupert Evans fairs fine as Hurt's young replacement, who does not get on that well with Hellboy mainly because of the designs he has on Liz.
This is, of course, the Director's Cut release, offering an extra ten minutes or so of new footage. Some of it is barely noticeable, but other more significant scenes flesh out the characters and relationships with more detail, in particular the relationship between Myers and Liz. Realistically, this is not a wildly interesting or necessary addition, but the brief extra moments with Rasputin and some of the other characters mark decent extra footage. Whatever may be criticised, most fans will be happy to have a longer cut of a movie that they enjoy already even if it does not - alone - justify a double-dip.
Overall, if you like your comic-book adaptations then you can't go very wrong with this one and, even if they are not normally your cup of tea, you might find that Hellboy's alternative take is quite refreshing and enjoyable. Blade 2's Guillermo Del Toro once again proves his worth here at the helm and hopefully he will bring us more from this colourful, powerful character.