Hellboy (review)

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Sympathy for the Devil

I couldn’t even begin to tell you what Hellboy is about, but unholy crap is it cool. It’s like geek soup, a goulash — ghoulash? — of everything that makes a movie neat and nerdy and like so totally awesome. Just the opening sequence alone has it all: black magic, cartoon Nazis, an icy Nordic blonde in leather, a geeky Fox Mulder-type paranormal investigator, weird machines that spin around and make the kind of disturbing throbbing noises that you know means they’re futzing around with the fabric of the universe in a bad way, freaky guns that look more like hair dryers than guns, portals into other dimensions, candy bars, a cute little red devil thing, and Rasputin. No shit: Rasputin. And it’s all in a nighttime downpour that keeps you from really seeing what’s happening and hence just makes it all the cooler and more mysterious and awesome. It’s like they couldn’t possible cram any more cool crap in there. It’s like the Best. Opening sequence. Ever.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating. A lot. But work with me: I’ve been suffering from a serious geek deficiency all year — there hasn’t been a decent geeky movie all year, though sure, Dawn of the Dead comes close — and here comes this movie that is, honestly, a bit of a mess and probably too long but has hellbeasts running around the subway and that creepy Prague-for-New York atmosphere and Ron Perlman tossing off snarky lines and it’s all unlit and bursting at the seams like a comic book that somehow can’t stay inside its panels. It leaves you with that same feeling you got as a kid when you were actually reading comic books, where you knew they were ridiculous but something about the absurdity of it made it yours alone, something that the other kids — the popular ones — would never get. Something about how in the story there were hidden secrets only the special, smart people knew about and could understand, how reading those stories under the covers with a flashlight made them all the better, how they made the boring old world a little more tolerable cuz you could escape in your head to a more exciting place.

So it’s kinda okay that I’ve got no concrete idea what the hell story Hellboy is trying to tell — something about Rasputin (Karel Roden: Bulletproof Monk, 15 Minutes) being a devil or the Devil, maybe, and perhaps trying to bring about Armageddon or some kind of Hell On Earth. And for this he needs Hellboy (Perlman: Star Trek: Nemesis, Enemy at the Gates), who’s a big red dude from another world, or another dimension, or something, who grinds down his horns to fit in here on Earth and has to live with FBI guys babysitting him all the time. But he’s a good guy. Supposedly.

Oh, wait, and there’s more cool geeky stuff: museums and ancient artifacts and a gearwork robot undead guy and old ruins that do things when you spill blood in them or insert one of those ancient artifacts into the right slot. And there’s John Hurt — who’s gotten away with being in all sorts of geeky stuff like Alien and Harry Potter and still gets to be considered a real actor, which is cool in itself — as Professor Bruttenholm, who has this like amazing library that any multidisciplinary geek would kill for and looks like something out of Jules Verne but is actually in the underground FBI bunker where Hellboy lives (along with the other freaks — there’s a bunch of ’em). The prof is like Hellboy’s dad — or adoptive dad, since the prof is neither red nor horny. Um…

Don’t ask me if it’s faithful to the actual Hellboy comic book — I can’t be expected to be up on all these things, and even my comic-book-nerd brother who came to the screening with me hasn’t read Hellboy so he couldn’t comment on that angle. But it seems like it’s gotta be, cuz Hellboy has a sorta girlfriend — Liz Sherman (Selma Blair: The Sweetest Thing, Legally Blonde), who’s a firestarter kind of freak — like these guys always do, and he’s got competition in that area — from a cute and not-red and not-horny-in-the-keratin-sense young FBI agent (Rupert Evans) — like tormented comic-book anti-heroes always do, and there’s an officious guy-in-charge type — here it’s FBI brass Dr. Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor: Eurotrip, Under the Tuscan Sun) — like there always is.

Didn’t I mention? Hellboy fights evil. Of course he does. Here it’s the kind of evil that makes you think of The X-Files and Ghostbusters and Men in Black and X-Men, but really it’s the type of evil that, when you were a kid reading comic books, you secretly knew was of the wedgy-pulling, schoolbook-spilling, teasing-and-taunting variety, and that it was going to get its ass kicked but good one of these days.

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