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Hellboy and Hellboy II: A Review and Rant

I like superhero movies in general. I also like the PG-13 adventure flick genre. And I also also like things that deal with mythology, holy relics, gods/angels/demons, and anything that can be tossed aside by a British or German scholar as a legend that “pre-dates the written word…” [spoken with an aura of minor awe and underplayed European dry confidence that seems to suggest that the listeners on-screen and in the audience simply would not be able to follow were X item actually explained].

So, naturally, I like Hellboy.

I’m not going to bother to explain the plot of the movies in detail, (assuming that if you bothered to click on this post, you are probably at least vaguely familiar.) Suffice to say, Hellboy is a big, red, humanoid, demonish guy with a big rock hand that can be used to **SPOILER**. He is played by Ron Perlman, which means that despite a lot of make-up, he probably needed no prosthetic work for that epic chin.

Hellboy’s quests also manage to ensare the girl who sets his heart (and everything else) aflame, Liz Sherman, played by Selma Blair, an attractive actress with strikingly joyless eyes. They have a somewhat mopey but ultimately charming romance that takes a back seat to the major save-the-world plots in both films, while she struggles with her ability to control her class-five mutant powers, and the audience can’t help but conclude that her theme song is “This Girl Is On Fire” (also the theme song of Katniss Everdeen and Joan of Arc).

The couple, the secret service, and the human race are also assisted by one blue, amphibious Abe Sapien, played by Doug Jones, whose voice changes between the two films! This is a point of confusion among a lot of viewers who notice and wonder about this discrepancy, seeing as, for Hellboy and Hellboy II, Doug is the only one credited with the role. If you are like me, you probably spent most of the first movie thinking or saying, “That sounds like Niles Crane!” and though his name is not attached to the film, you would be right. The story goes like so:

Dougie will tell anyone who cares to ask – and believe me, he’s been asked this one A LOT – that the intention right from the start was to dub the voice of Abe Sapien. Before Doug was even cast, there were rumours of David Hyde Pierce or Kevin Spacey doing Abe’s voice… and they finally went with David Hyde Pierce (who, incidentally, is uncredited, at his own request – he regards Abe as wholly Doug’s creation).

This was pulled from The Doug Jones Experience and verified by other googling. In any case, the role is delightful, and Doug Jones creates a fascinating and appropriately quirky non-human fin-head who probably has more of a moral compass than any of the other characters. It is peculiar, however, that in the first movie, Abe Sapien sounds incredibly grown up, whereas in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the voice makes the centuries old merman pass for a merteen dealing with girl troubles for the first time…

(I should also mention that the movies also feature Jeffrey Tambor and John Hurt before I forget.)

So what’s to like about Hellboy? Let’s go with everything I mentioned in the first paragraph to start with. There are original monsters, crazy fight scenes, super-powers, and at least some kind of personal growth from most of the relevant characters. The bad guys (an undead Rasputin and an evil Elf warlord) have some amount of style and class and their speeches don’t get old, but they do have a bit of a take-over-the-world-for-the-sake-of thing going on. The cinematography and editing are top-notch–seriously, it’s Guillermo del Toro, and whether or not I can pronounce his first name, I admire his work. (Best moment in the movies.)

But my actual favorite thing about the movies is how not seriously they take themselves when it comes to making jokes about the super-hero tropes or the save-the-world arcs. Sure, there’s an admirable amount of heart to the characters, especially Hellboy himself, but the films manage to work in staggering trays of breakfast meat, throwing pebbles to prevent courtship, catching babies during fights, drunken karaoke between non-humans, and (of course) punching ghosts in the face.

Del Toro incorporates all of the fun stuff without getting Jar Jar Binks about it.

If you’re looking for reasons not to like Hellboy, I would suggest checking out every negative review you can find on Netflix, but for the benefit of those who’d like to be swayed against the films, here goes:

  1. Ron Perlman could frighten small children in or out of costume;

  2. The plots are over-the-top, fate-of-the-world, and the-good-guy-saves-the-day;

  3. The movies condone on-screen smoking and off-screen interracial relationships (gasp);

  4. There’s not really a good reason to find the main romantic interest desirable other than the fact that she is simply ‘this movie’s girl’;

  5. There are annoying bits with prophesies and life-or-death exchanges and even life-for-a-life exchanges that do not hold up to logic;

  6. Property damage and the deaths of innocent bystanders are not taken seriously at all;

  7. Occasionally, the person projectiles defy physics.

If you’re okay with all of that, sit back and enjoy Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. (And be pleasantly surprised when the rumored Hellboy III actually releases its first trailer.)

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