‘Hellboy’ plays with fire

It’s a tricky thing, taking a comic book from the color saturated pages and bringing the same vibrancy to the big screen. There’s always a certain hesitance to even attempt it, especially after seeing all the ways in which it can fail. Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four comes to mind… but still, just as much as a decent comic book movie is about being well executed, it’s also about introducing audiences to worthwhile characters.

In that sense, Hellboy is an unusual movie, in that it is both a success and a failure. I’m not gonna claim that I was one of the proud and the few who read Hellboy before I knew it was going to be made into a movie. But when I heard about the cast attached to the project, especially visionary Guillermo del Toro, I took the opportunity to read all of the issues I could get my hands on. Since then, Hellboy has become, easily, one of my favorite comic book characters. Unfortunately, the silver screen treatment hasn’t always been kind to some of my favorite characters.

Luckily, the titular character of the series is safe. Ron Perlman has an undeniable charisma that he brings to the character. On the one hand, Hellboy is crass and almost impossible to work with, but at heart, he’s still figuring out what to make of himself in a world that won’t allow him to fit in. The central themes of identity and isolation, that runs rampant through comic books and their movie counterparts, are on full display here, but there’s something stronger at work here. Superman and Batman can pass. They may struggle with their secret identities, but they don’t wear their difference on their skins. Hellboy does and that’s something that the movie contends with, much like the comics did. In this sense, Hellboy captures the sincerity and thematic issues of the comic and uses them well in what could easily be dismissed as a popcorn movie.

Unfortunately, not all the other characters of the comics receive the same treatment. Abe Sapien gets a bit of a makeover that I’m still uncertain about. I mean, I understand how it progresses the movie and why the changes were made, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. I just remember the days when being a man-fish hybrid who could breath underwater was cool enough to get you your own comic book series, but now you have to have psychic powers too? But sadly, that’s nothing compared to the changes made to Liz Sherman. Liz Sherman always borders on emo, in the comics, but finds a sense of purpose and actually has some of the funniest lines of the comic book series. In del Toro’s film, she remains flat and uninteresting for most of the movie. It’s a shame because Liz has a lot of potential as a character, but it seems that she suffers from Hollywood’s limited characterization of female heroines.

Overall, most issues that I have with the film stem from that undeniable Hollywood influence. Sure, they keep some of Mignola’s central villains such as the nazis, which is a really cool touch, but when placed side by side, it seems that the differences far outweigh the similarities. One huge difference that proved to be quite distracting was the introduction of an entirely new character, Agent John Myers, a recent transplant to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. I get that he’s supposed to be the eyes of the movie, and that he’s necessary to introduce the audience to these already-established characters, but he should remain just that, a tool of the movie. Instead, he finds himself inserted into a bizarre love triangle which feels as artificial and contrived as a romance between…. well, a new agent, a pyrotechnic, and a big red guy. It just feels misguided and out of place in the movie, but for Hollywood’s sake, it is included.

In the end, Hellboy suffers from serving the studio’s interests. At its heart, it tries to be s a dedicated fanboy piece, which should be essential viewing for any fan of the comic, but little more. Aside from Ron Perlman’s performance, some of the central themes and questions about the nature of good and evil, and a stunning look, Hellboy is just another recent, but enjoyable entry into the world of comic book movies.

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