April 17, 2008 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | | April 17, 2008 |


Because I know that my relationship with many of the Pajibageeks is a tortured one - we don’t always agree when it comes to getting our cinematic rocks off; I like good movies, the Pajbageeks like damn near anything that jumps from the comic-book page — it is with a heavy heart and some trepidation — like telling a sexual partner during intercourse that she’s got an errant pube on her upper lip — that I have to break this to you. And I ask in advance that you keep your tar and feathers hidden securely beneath your Costco Doritos purchases and stacks of illustrated erotica in your Mom’s basement where you masturbate to Anime and pray against hope you’ll one day touch a real boobie (H/T Twig). I am, after all, only doing this for your own good, so that you might someday break out of stranglehold that adolescence still holds over you and go out into the real world and greet a sun that’s not etched into the background of whatever video game you’re immersed in. Like the build-up of grime behind your ears or the pony-tail you’ve been sporting since 9th grade, the Band-Aid needs to be removed, quickly and with more than a little force, just so I get the point across, Castlevania:

Hellboy is a fucking cinematic monstrosity, an irredeemable mess of a film that should be excised from Guillermo Del Toro’s resume. It is vile nonsense, stylistically rendered in Goth colors and ludicrous costumes to trick your eyes into believing you’re seeing something worthwhile. It is not. And while I will concede that Hellboy is a visually stunning film, it is no more or less preposterous than the overblown celluloid travesties that Michael Bay regularly flushes out of his intestine with the help of a Gibberish Colonicâ„¢.

Hellboy is, in a word: Butt.

Now, while some of you mull that over and, like a deluded New England Patriots fan walking out of Super Bowl XLII, live in your state of catatonic denial, let me attempt to describe the plot of Hellboy. Maybe then, if you see it in print, your irrational love will dry up like a slug bathing in salt.

Hellboy begins in 1944, where one Gregori Rasputin (yep: one in the same) — after spending five years building a dimensional portal device that he plans to use to destroy the Earth by summoning The Seven Gods of Chaos who have been asleep in another time and dimension — is interrupted in his quest by the pacifist Professor Trevor Bruttenhold and some American soldiers. While the portal is open, the soldiers — who are simultaneously fighting with Nazis — manage to throw a grenade on the porthole and destroy it, seemingly killing Rasputin, but not before he grants eternal life and beauty to Ilsa von Haupstein. Before the portal completely closes, however, a baby demon with a hand made of stone sneaks in through the portal and is claimed by Professor Bruttenhold and the United States’ Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense.

Oh, and yeah: The baby demon loves Baby Ruth candy bars.

Sixty years later, that baby demon grows into Hellboy (though, he’s not very old — Hellboy ages in reverse dog years, see). Hellboy, who is sort of a red version of the Incredible Hulk (or, at least, a non-CGI rendering of Ang Lee’s Hulk), has a love/hate relationship with his captors and is occasionally called upon to snuff out other paranormal activity before the American public gets a whiff of it. He considers a now older Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) his father, for whom he has an immense affection.

We are introduced to present day Hellboy through the eyes of John Myers, an FBI agent who wins over the cantankerous, dry-witted Hellboy with, of course, a few Baby Ruth candy bars (because, as well all know, super-powerful, indestructible demons with stone hands love Baby Ruth!) Also under the employ of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense is Abe Sapien, an alien-looking fish man with psychic abilities, and Liz (Selma Blair), a pyrokinetic who — when angry — has an unfortunate tendency to accidentally burn down hospitals with her powers. Hellboy is in love with Liz, but Liz gets out of the Bureau because she fears the destructive dangers of her power.

Preposterous enough yet? Oh, it gets worse: In fact, it’s at this point in the movie when my brain — designed to understand logic and coherence — completely loses the plot strands. From what I can follow, the cadaverous Kroenen (one of Rasputin’s henchmen) and Isla (who has not aged) find an engraved portal, spill the blood of their guide onto it, and it somehow reawakens Rasputin (yes, that Rapsutin, the Mad Monk who helped discredit the Tsarist government in Russia in the early 20th century). There’s little explanation for how or why. It just does, OK? Then, Rasputin and his cronies go to NYC and release Sammeal, a tentacled Alien looking creature that has the magical ability to split its essence, i.e., whenever it is killed, two grow in its place. As you might imagine, this causes quite a problem for Hellboy and, during the ensuing melee, Kroenen — whose body I think is made of sand (he bleeds sand, anyway) — kills Hellboy’s FBI bodyguard and then pretends to be dead himself, allowing his body to be carried into the Bureau. Then the Bureau director, Tom Manning (Jeffery Tambor) gets all pissy with Hellboy for allowing the murders to happen. Meanwhile, Hellboy — a fucking demon who keeps his horns shorn for inexplicable reasons — gets jealous when Liz has coffee with Myers. Then, Rasputin shows up and shows Professor Bruttenholm a vision of the future where Hellboy destroys mankind.

Then things get really weird.

I won’t spoilerate the ending for you; in fact, I don’t think I could if I wanted to; it makes no goddamn sense to me. The best I can make out is that Rasputin literally sucks out Liz’s soul and Hellboy is faced with a predicament: Fulfill his destiny (that stone hand of his, it turns out, is a literal key which unlocks the door to destruction) or save mankind with a couple of bad 80’s action-film one-liners.

Granted, Ron Perlman — who is hidden underneath the ridiculous Hellboy costume — is fantastic in the role and mines a few of those cheesy one-liners for much more than they’re worth (“Second date, no tongue!”). It’s amazing, actually, that he’s able to spit out the snark through so many layers of prosthetics. Perlman is a magnetic force, absolutely commanding on screen, and an action hero who deserves much better than the heap of demon excrement he’s asked to wallow around in here. The cinematography, also, is a beauty to behold, as you’d expect from Del Toro. The action sequences are also at times stellar, at least before the CGI Spectacular lays waste to everything on screen, piling dumbassery on top of inanity before sealing it in a big bag of idiocy. It is one unholy mockery, and completely fucking senseless, to boot (Could someone explain to me how Hellboy brought back Liz? By breathing on her?)

And therein lies Hellboy’s biggest fault: It makes no fucking sense. Rasputin? A demon boy? Nazis? Portals? Everlasting life? Baby Ruth candy bars? I mean, come the fuck on. Even for the comic-book geekiest of folks, surely all of this rings a little over the top? And what I don’t understand is why the same fanboys who sport wood over Hellboy can’t wait to eviscerate another awful comic-book film like Spiderman 3, faulting it for a poorly designed, overly complex, villain-heavy plot. What the hell was Hellboy but a handful of villains (Rasputin, Isla, Kroener, Sammeal, the Behometh); cornball, endlessly lame dialogue; a hokey-as-hell love story; and — after the ridiculous but somewhat intriguing origins story — ninety goddamn minutes of tortuously empty spectacle? It’s bad action porn with an overly-explosive money shot that hits you in the eye and blinds you before burrowing into the back of your brain and exploding (that’s some powerful demon seed).

Still, for all its faults, there is enough visual panache, dark-world stylism, and breathtaking special effects to suggest that a Hellboy 2 may have some potential, so long as Del Toro doesn’t feel the need to dumb it down the three-year olds, who have no use for logic, anyhow. Del Toro is, after all, a clearly talented director (and a sometimes talented writer). And the character — and Ron Perlman, especially — deserve a second shot to make this motherfucker work; it’s unfortunate, however, that in the sequel, Hellboy will likely be obscured by even more characters than the original. It’s a shame, too, because when it’s just Hellboy and his cigar, he’s definitely a character you can love.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

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