Rating: 3 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
During World War II, the Nazis teamed up with Rasputin, the Russian mystic, and concocted a plan to call down the Ogdru Jahad, ancient godlike beings who would raze the Earth—except for Germany I guess?—and leave a blank slate for the Nazis to reshape in their image. Professor Bruttenholm, occult advisor to President Roosevelt, becomes aware of their plans and leads an army battalion to stop them. In the fighting Rasputin’s equipment is destroyed and he appears to be killed, and all that’s left behind is a tiny demonic-looking child, quickly nicknamed Hellboy.
Cut to the present, where a young FBI agent named Myers has just been recruited into the secretive Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), run by Bruttenholm, with Hellboy as their top monster-fighting agent, along with Abe Sapien, a psychic fishman, and a lot of normal humans. They had a pyrokinetic agent named Liz Sherman, whom Hellboy loves, but she left to try to find some kind of normal life in an insane asylum.
Two of Rasputin’s followers, immortal for magic reasons, have finally discovered a way to resurrect their leader, and he gets right onto bringing back the Ogdru Jahad again. Their plan seems to involve making infinite demon dogs (kill one and two more are born) and fighting these dogs takes up most of the movie, but in reality I guess all they needed was to lure Hellboy to Russia and convince him to open the portal to release the Ogdru Jahad and destroy the planet. They do this by first killing Bruttenholm, leaving behind a note with essentially their address on it, and then by taking Liz Sherman and using her as a pawn to force Hellboy to do what they want or else lose her forever.
The make-up and practical effects in Hellboy are really incredible, especially for 2004. Hellboy and Abe Sapien look fantastic, and they’re cast perfectly in Ron Perlman and Doug Jones/David Hyde Pierce. Ditto to villain Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, who is some kind Nazi scarecrow robot, a gross old body filled with sand and clockwork parts, with no eyelids or lips, almost always seen wearing a mask. Very creepy and effective.
The general set design and atmosphere also work well. I wanted to see more of the BRPD headquarters, and know more about their past adventures (which, to me, seemed like they could be more interesting than the current adventure).
There isn’t anything all that terrible about Hellboy, and in fact it’s a perfectly fine watch, but there isn’t anything all that remarkable or memorable about it either. Considering its heroes are a demon, a psychic fishman, and an unstable pyrokinetic, it’s baffling how plain and by-the-numbers the whole thing feels.
You’ve got Agent Myers, the generic white guy point-of-view character, and you’ve got your half-dozen or so unnamed suit-wearing guys who follow the heroes around so they have someone who can be killed by the villains, and you’ve got Jeffrey Tambor’s FBI Director Tom Manning, who whines constantly about being in charge here and wanting Hellboy to play by the book or whatever, and you’ve got Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman, technically the most powerful of them all, getting knocked out, stripped, and left on an altar so Hellboy can scream in frustration at how dang unfair it is that his lady love is going to be sacrificed.