Written by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, John Hurt
The beauty of living in a free world comes from the choices we can make that ultimately dictate what our future will be. Many are born with disadvantages and a particularly negative disposition in life, which occurs on a grander scale in Hellboy, but the decision ultimately lies with us in deciding our identity. A wonderfully uplifting sentiment and one that only further reinforces the incredible world and characters in this feature.
After ending a particular world-ending event in 1944, Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) discovers a little red creature that came through a portal. A little monster they decide to name is Hellboy (Ron Perlman) who now as an adult works to keep the world safe from monsters. Now with those same antagonists back to finish what they started, Hellboy must contend with the threat himself, while also trying to reunite with a love interest.
Some stories, on paper, should just not work in live-action, as it feels impossible for it to work in earnest and this property certainly feels like one of them. A story following a giant red monster and caring about his feelings as he fights monsters can only be successful under the work of one man and thankfully it happened under the stewardship of Guillermo Del Toro. Not only does he make the adaptation work but he also creates a rich world where these supposed “monsters” get to share genuine emotion and become much more intriguing compared to any of the human characters by a country mile.
However, it became obvious this narrative could not solely hinge on Hellboy as a character, at the time, so the addition of John Myers (Rupert Evans) serves as a guide to this world. Transferred over to essentially be a handler for Hellboy, we see the human perspective of just how wild this entire world is but also hampering the story with his blandness. He certainly proves to be the most boring character, but through the script, it becomes obvious Del Toro knows this as well. Almost feels like a studio note that this character needed to be included, but Del Toro knows the “freaks” are the star of the show and we gloriously receive a strong thematic throughline for Hellboy but also other characters as well.
As large as Hellboy may be along with his proficiency in killing monsters that would frighten anyone, the most endearing aspect of this feature comes from the exploration of his emotions. A big character, for sure, but one who really loves his father and has an intense attraction towards Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). In different breaks from all of the fighting, we have moments of Hellboy pining for her in trying to convince her to come back to the Bureau and be with him. With Hellboy dealing with his own issues internally with wishing he did not look like a big red monster, he shares a similar struggle with Liz, who does not have complete control of her fire powers. A combination of outsiders, which really gets down to the heart of the story. These outsiders all band together and Liz has the opportunity to live a normal life because she looks like a regular human while Hellboy struggles with how he looks and the way needs to be hidden even with his efforts to save humanity from the creatures lurking in the dark.
This aspect of the film feels so incredibly rich and becomes the ultimate highlight along with the action and the ultimate theme of being more than what you were born to be. Hellboy certainly looks like a demon sent straight from hell and his purpose of creation comes with fairly bad ramifications for the rest of the world. However, the growth in the story appears in the particular realization of this for the titular character. He was crafted to be a weapon but the decision lies with him whether or not to serve this particular purpose. It certainly gives off similar vibes to The Iron Giant but in this instance, the weapon feels a bit more human.
The technical elements of this feature are genuinely breathtaking, as has become a staple for Del Toro features. Seeing any of his films and you would know he brings on the best to put forward engaging stories with incredible makeup and breathtaking practical effects. Not only does the work on Hellboy and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) look spectacular, the practical effects in creating the Sammael monsters is genuinely stunning. Opting for CG monsters could have been so easy but it feels much more frightening and threatening through its attention to detail. The designs show monsters made to create havoc on Earth and the sense of fear they evoke throughout the feature proves a job well done by this department.
Additionally, the score of this film by Marco Beltrami absolutely slaps so hard. From the main title bringing plenty of mysterious intrigue to this world to the melancholic tunes meant to accentuate the sad moments of this feature, Beltrami came to play. All of the best scenes with the feature come accompanied by these tremendous tracks here elevating the stakes of the action and the strong emotional work occurring here. So many rewatches and years seeing this wonderful film and one of the aspects that continually stick with me remains the compositions put together by Beltrami.
Again, only someone as audacious as Guillermo Del Toro could bring this character onto the big screen and make it work to such an incredible degree. No one other than him could make a love triangle between an FBI agent, a fire-producing individual, and a demon work and actually create emotionally resonant moments. Del Toro effortlessly matches his attention to detail with big swings of emotional messiness because his characters are always more than what he receives. He lives life as a sentimentalist and it shows in spades, even when his protagonist happens to be a big red demon monster.
Hellboy will forever be a film I adore for simply going for it unflinchingly with its narrative, presentation, and its important theme regarding choosing one’s own destiny. It makes it hard to believe Del Toro could step up and be even better in a sequel but he proves just that by demonstrating he knows how to make spectacular genre films. His love for monsters comes out clearly in this feature and it works for the betterment of the production.