Hellboy (2004)

Starring: Ron Perlman, John Hurt, David Hyde Pierce, Selma Blair, Rupert Evans

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Ron Perlman as Hellboy

'There really are things that go bump in the night,' mutters John Hurt's Professor 'Broom' Bruttenholm darkly, 'And we're the ones who bump back.'

We being an elite branch of the FBI charged with investigating the paranormal and occult. Kinda like the X Files only way, way cooler. And their secret weapon? A six foot five hunk of tandoori chicken with sideburns and an attitude. That'll be Hellboy then.

The result of an evil black magic experiment carried out by the Nazis on a remote Scottish island (huh?) in order to take over ze vooorld, Hellboy is a demon brought over to our side from the dark side, rescued by American marines (Steven Spielberg was right - there are no British forces fighting the Second World War) and brought up as a son to Professor Bruttenholm. (You might have thought he'd have given him a kinder name. How about Joe? Or Alfred? Alfred's nice.)

Anyway, here he is, your average, everyday working demon, employed by the Feds in their fight against the forces of evil (amazing how many monsters there are out there, isn't it?). He may be sixty in human years, but in demon years he's still in his early twenties, which of course makes him stroppy, sulky, impetuous and self-conscious - why else would he file down his horns with a Black and Decker in order to 'fit in'?

David Hyde Pierce voices freaky fish man Abe Sapien

Together with his freaky fish man sidekick Abe (Niles Crane in a body suit, acting as camp as an aquatic C3PO), his new minder John and a gang of faceless agents to act as monster fodder, Hellboy sets out to stop some renegade Nazis and, er, Rasputin in their dastardly attempts to start what they finished during World War Two and destroy ze voooorld completely.

Yeah, whatever. Frankly my dear, we don't give a damn about the plot and we certainly don't give a damn about the rather dull, two-dimensional baddies: we just like watching Hellboy's antics. Jobbing character actor Ron Perlman was born to don the huge stone hand and duster jacket (think he looks familiar? Amongst countless other roles, he played Vincent in that TV series of Beauty of the Beast starring Linda Hamilton!). Chewing on a big cigar and spitting out dry one-liners like bullets, he looks like the bastard son of the Incredible Hulk and Tim Curry's Lord of Darkness in Legend and he blows everybody else off the screen. Forget Spider-Man with his geeky specs and moral responsibilities: Hellboy's here to kick some ass.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) share a moment

A glorious cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark, X-Men and Nightbreed, Hellboy doesn't take itself at all seriously, but at the same time it isn't trying to be postmodern and clever either. The plot is so cheesy you could serve it with pickle, the nominal human characters (hapless but good-hearted John and pyrokinetic mutant Liz) are appealing enough but hardly finely drawn (although it's always nice to see dear old John Hurt on screen) and the special effects aren't particularly special (although they're not bad either), but the whole thing is carried along merrily on Hellboy's broad red shoulders and I thought it was great. Funny, fast paced (even if, at two hours long, it did start to drag a bit by the end) and surprisingly endearing, this film is what pure escapist entertainment is all about.

And best of all? Big red demon Hellboy gets the girl. Although with Hellboy 2 already scheduled for release in 2006, I can't see that lasting long. Oh, did I just spoil it for you? As Hellboy himself would say: 'Oh crap.'

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