Monday, August 11, 2008

Hellboy

(Movie Review)

This movie was flying completely under my radar when it first came out. I was vaguely aware that a movie with this title was playing in theaters, but I had absolutely no interest in seeing it.

(Despite being a comic book fan in my youth, I was, for better or for worse, exclusively a fan of the 2 major publishers, and bothered to look over at any of the minor companies like “Dark Horse.” My loss, I’m sure.)

I first began to take an interest in this movie when “Pan’s Labyrinth” came out, and critics began comparing it to director Guillermo del Toro’s earlier work, “Hellboy”.
(I still haven’t seen “Pan’s Labyrinth” actually. It wasn't out on DVD yet when I left the states, and I can’t find an English subtitled version in Japan. It’s on my list of movies to see someday, however).

Now Hellboy II is out in theaters. And I've been noticing it has been getting great reviews. (Time magazine, which I have a subscription to out here in Japan, gave it a very nice write up, and again compared it to Guillermo del Toro’s earlier works--read it here).

As long as I’m living out in the Japanese country side, it will be a while before I get around to seeing new movies like Hellboy II, but for the moment I thought I’d content myself with picking up the original Hellboy from my video store.

The very name of this movie assures that it would have been on the blacklist at the Christian schools I attended growing up. And indeed a small part of me did feel guilty for enjoying a movie in which a demon is the hero. But once you get past that hang up, it is a great ride.

(If one were inclined to become philosophical about this, I guess the whole premise of the movie does bring up some interesting issues about whether demons are irredeemably evil, or if they posses the power of free will just like humans. [I remember Bork once explaining to me how The Rolling Stones anthem “Sympathy for the Devil”, another song hated by the Christian right, was actually a deep theological song about whether it was okay or not to feel sympathy for Satan’s plight, and if Satan had the possibility for redemption.]
And although the movie does hint at this issue, it is not at heart a philosophical movie. So I’ll just leave it.)

Not having read the comic, I’m not sure how much of the story should be credited with screen writer/ director Guillermo Del Toro, and how much originates from the source material, but right from the beginning it is a wonderfully bizarre story. During World War II, the Nazis are working on a top secret project to summon the powers of hell. They are interrupted by US soldiers accompanied by a somewhat eccentric Catholic scientist who specializes in the paranormal. The demon, only a baby at the time, is found by the U.S. army and brought up to be on the side of good: a crime fighter for the FBI.

One of the things that make this movie different than your average superhero movie is that the title character doesn't hog all the screen time. There are several other interesting characters in the movie, and the story is just as much about them as about Hellboy himself, such as the paranormal scientist who finds Hellboy in the first place, the mysterious Aquaman named Abe Sapien, the fire girl Liz Sherman, and the young FBI agent newly transferred to the bureau of paranormal activities, who has no idea what he is getting into.

The action sequences themselves are okay, but they’re nothing special either. In fact, since Hellboy is repeatedly fighting the same demon throughout the movie (the Hound of Resurrection, how repeatedly rises again no matter how many times Hellboy manages to kill him) things can even get a bit repetitive.

But the real draw of this movie is the fantastically bizarre creatures who populate its world.

Someday, perhaps a couple of years from now when “Hellboy II” finally comes out in Japan, I look forward to seeing that as well. I’m also looking forward to seeing Del Toro’s version of “The Hobbit”.

Link of the Day
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