Going by last week's sneak preview responses, there is no doubt that Hellboy will see heavenly numbers in its opening week.
Director Guillermo Del Toro reportedly turned down several seemingly more prestigious projects in this film's favour. But whether Del Toro's much hyped film about yet another comicbook hero would have the devilish energy to be a long running hit is the big question. For the movie runs out of steam after about 50 minutes and ends up an also-ran comic hero saga.
Del Toro, whose Blade II earned a handsome $150 million worldwide, could have a far bigger hit with his new film.
Substantial amount of credit for that success would go to Ron Perlman's strong, wise-cracking screen presence that makes this sci-fi drama interesting till it completely surrenders to the computer whizkids determined to ape half a dozen sci-fi hits. Despite a lot of makeup and latex, Perlman does convincing bit of emoting, thanks to his excellent talent for using his eyes and superb body language.
Thanks to Perlman, many atmospheric scenes and several suspenseful moments, Hellboy offers quite a bit of fun. Del Toro said he did not have to worry about casting a well-known actor and hide him under great amount of makeup. He also added he had always known that Ron Perlman is a fine actor (having worked with him in Cronos and Blade II), but without a famous face.
Perlman was ideal to play Hellboy because Del Toro saw the character as a blue-collar superhero.
The film starts with Hitler's occultist geniuses, aided by fiendish Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), plan to create Hellboy, a satanic child. Don't ask how the Russian evil man Rasputin comes to work for the Nazis. This is not a historical film, after all.
But the Allied invasion strikes at Rasputin's plan. And the baby demon with red skins, horn and a tail, is freed from the Nazis.
The satanic child, who was expected to speed up the end of the world, comes to be raised by a benign professor Broom (John Hurt). The superhuman Hellboy is of great interest to American defense establishment, especially its unit that deals with paranormal research. Hellboy's paranormal gifts are used to look for paranormal villains in the most unlikely places. He gets by with the help from his friends, including an aqua man named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and human FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans).
But Rasputin has not forgotten his creation. Brought back to life to destroy those who brought down the Nazis, he starts looking for Hellboy.
Hellboy's life in the meanwhile becomes a bit complicated thanks to his entanglement with the government agent Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). He has to handle her with great care for she sets things ablaze in an angry state.
But Hellboy isn't the only one interested in Liz. Another FBI operative, John Myers, also wants her affection. Predictably, there will be conflict brewing between Hellboy and Myers. Del Toro infuses quite a bit of humour even in the jealous moments, so the romantic entanglement does not overweigh the film. The final confrontation, then, won't be between Hellboy and Myers. It has to be between Hellboy and his earthly creator.
The movie begins to sink towards the end under the weight of its multiple tracks but it has several good things going for it. For instance, unlike many other comicbook-inspired movies, including The Hulk, it does not spend considerable amount of time at the beginning explaining the background of its hero.
It would have gained considerably had there been better chemistry between Hellboy and Liz. Yet, given its considerable charm, energy and visual treat, one should not be surprised if Hellboy begets a sequel next year.
And Del Toro, who wrapped the film for about $60 million and made it look as if it cost $100 million, would be the prime candidate to direct the second Hellboy.
Cast: Ron Perlman, Salma Blair, John Hurt, Rupert Evans
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Based on Mike Mignola's Dark Horse comics
Rating: PG-13 for violence and frightening images.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics