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by david   April 5, 2004

The Hellboy comics feature solid, pulpy stories and sometimes truly original moments (which are often hard to come by in comic books), but what makes them truly special are their style (thanks to Mike Mignola's distinct and incredible artwork) and the heart of their incomparably root-for-able characters (if I may badly coin a phrase). It's because of those two characteristics that Hellboy has continued to succeed as long as it has.

And those two characteristics are what makes the new movie a resounding success as well. Guillermo Del Toro supplies style in spades, with art direction totally dedicated to recreating the creepy, shadowy world Mignola created in the comics. Abe Sapien (acted by Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde Pierce) is one of the most beautiful onscreen characters I've ever seen -- the makeup and costume design is so stunning, the only bad thing I can think to say is I wish he were in the film more. Speaking of makeup and costumes, one of the coolest things about this movie is the restraint with which Del Toro uses CGI effects, choosing instead to use way more live, old-school costume, makeup and lighting effects than you would expect to see in a contemporary "creature movie," where computer effects, many of them bad, are the norm. Perhaps budget constraints forced Del Toro to go the more traditional route, but whatever the reason, for this film it just works. That's not to say there aren't plenty of computer-generated effects (some of them too obvious), but he could have gone way overboard, and does not.

While direction, costumes and makeup supply style, the heart in this film is supplied nearly in its entirety by the amazing Ron Perlman. I knew going in he'd be good -- he's been a tremendous actor for decades (I love him in the Name of the Rose and in the TV series Beauty and the Beast), but he really does carry this film on his broad shoulders. For those interested in such things, the story goes that, during their first meeting, Mignola and Del Toro both told each other they had the perfect actor in mind for Hellboy -- both had picked Perlman. There was apparently some push-back early on from the studio, since Perlman is no slam-dunk box office draw, and is primarily known for supporting work, but Mignola and Del Toro made the absolute right decision in sticking with their leading man. Nobody is so real under pounds of latex as Perlman, and nobody could have pulled off this role with such glee, sincerity and sheer like-ability. Ron Perlman is what so many actors who don the make-up and crazy headgear can never quite manage to be -- startlingly, nakedly human.

The rest of the supporting cast, especially John Hurt and Jeffry Tambor, are very good, and the story is as successful an adaptation of a comic as you are likely to see. What this means is lots of action, some silly moments, great character development, and plot that sometimes seems cheesy and a little thin, but is full of fun. It is thoroughly enjoyable, and even though the ending is a bit anticlimactic, everything wraps up just the way you want it to.

While no Return of the King, Hellboy is a thoroughly fun, satisfying movie. Whether you're a fan of the comic, of comics in general, or just like a good, fun, exceedingly human action flick, you should see this film.

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