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Friday, 20 June 2008

Hellboy (2004)

In 1944 the Nazis were desperate and they started playing with all sorts of bizarre stuff. We know that but graphic novelist Mike Mignola took it a step further. He had the Nazis visit the ruins of Trondheim Abbey in Scotland with Grigori Rasputin, so that he can hook up a bunch of cool machinery and summon the seven gods of chaos from the outer spaces. It's on an intersection of leylines, you see, so works great as a portal to the beyond. Also present, among the general Nazi rabble, are Rasputin's Nazi officer girlfriend and servant, Ilsa Haupstein, and Hitler's top assassin, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, who looks very cool indeed with his black metal mask and bizarre swordplay.

Watching is Trevor Bruttenholm, better known as Broom, an English paranormal researcher who has arrived with the Americans. They fight it out with the Germans and close the portal but by the time they do, Rasputin has gone over to the other side and something else has come over to ours. He's small and red, he has horns and a tail and a huge club for a right hand. The Americans make him something of a secret mascot and Broom effectively adopts him. They call him Hellboy and in the form of Ron Perlman, he's very very cool indeed.

Back in New Jersey in the present day, there's a building that says it belongs to some Waste Management Services company. Underneath it though is the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, where Broom and Hellboy live and work, saving the world from the bad guys and that sort of stuff. Hellboy is now 6' 5" tall, has a thing for cats and Baby Ruths, smokes cigars and files down his horns to fit in. It's a heck of a place to fit in, given that they have things like the Spear of Longinus and Abe Sapien, a hyperintelligent fish creature discovered the day Abraham Lincoln died, who reads four books at once, eats rotten eggs and can pick up past and future from objects.

All this is naturally something of a shock for new boy, John Myers, hand picked from the FBI by Broom, who knows he's dying. Broom tells him, 'There are things that go bump in the night and we are the ones who bump back.' Soon there's a lot of bumping going on because Rasputin is back, having been resurrected by in the Birgau Pass in Moldavia by Haupstein and Kroenen, and he promptly releases Samael the Hellhound in a local museum to piss them all off. There's purpose to it all, of course, and it's up to Hellboy and the Bureau to stop Rasputin.

I watched this film for the first time in 2004, its year of release, after having read and loved many of the original graphic novels. I was, shall we say underwhelmed and was surprised to be underwhelmed. At that point the only Guillermo del Toro film I'd seen was Blade II, which I didn't know then was literally nothing but an audition for Hellboy. Then, after having caught up with Cronos and Pan's Labyrinth, I watched it again in 2007. It had grown on me but still left me somewhat dry. My review is here. Now in 2008 I haven't seen anything new except the trailer for Hellboy II which looks frickin' awesome, so it's definitely time for another viewing.

I'm happy to say that it seems to get better with every viewing. Some of it makes no sense, some (note: only some) of the effects are a little flaky, Ilsa is an overacted pain in the ass, some of the locations defy all the laws of physics and the ending is surprisingly disappointing. However the film holds together much better than I remembered, the characters were always impeccably cool and many of the references follow right behind. It's going to be very interesting indeed to see what a post Pan's Labyrinth del Toro can give us. Perlman will be back of course, as del Toro wouldn't make it without him, and there looks like much more. I'll be in the theatres in the first week, that's for sure.

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