Hellboy is a 2004 supernatural action film based on the Dark Horse comic book of the same name, created by Mike Mignola. The script was written by Guillermo del Toro and Peter Briggs, with Guillermo del Toro also directing the film. The movie spawned a sequel called Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008. Despite positive reviews, the two films weren’t financially successful enough for the studio to want to conclude the trilogy planned by del Toro. This is due in part because the film came before the time that comic book movies became all the rage. The franchise eventually received an R-rated reboot in the form of a film that’s also titled Hellboy in 2019.
The film follows the titular Hellboy played by Ron Perlman, Liz Sherman played by Selma Blair, Abraham “Abe” Sapien played by Doug Jones, Professor “Broom” Bruttenholm played by John Hurt, and Tom Manning, played by Jeffrey Tambor.
Hellboy is a supernatural being, a half-Demon who skipped left-arm-day at the gym, whose true name is Anung Un Rama. Naturally, this translates to something very ominous: “And upon his brow is set a crown of flame”. His name has to do with an ancient prophecy that foretells the world’s cataclysmic ending, brought upon by someone with a crown of flame. At the beginning of the film, we see Hellboy coming to Earth after being summoned by Grigory Rasputin on behalf of the Nazis. The Allied Forces stop the ritual but are too late, yet things are not as dire as they had feared. Professor Bruttenholm takes Hellboy in as a child, raising him as his own, and teaching him how to live among people.
It turns out that Hellboy isn’t as bad as his name or his horns and tail make him out to be. In fact, he’s quite likable. He eventually joins a secret U.S. agency called the Bureau of Paranormal Research, helping them battle with the supernatural and keep the human world safe from harm. His partners out on the field include Liz Sherman, a human woman who can create fire out of thin air (sometimes accidentally), and Abe Sapien, a fish-like humanoid creature that reads minds and needs a special suit to be able to breathe outside of water.
Liz is also Hellboy’s love interest, and Abe is good friends with both of them. Although supernatural action is at the forefront of the film, romance also plays a key role in it. Much of the film is dedicated to the exploration of Hellboy’s and Liz’s relationship, and the difficulties that arise from a childish half-Demon and an emotionally unstable walking firebomb being together. Hellboy is also the only character in the film who is unaffected by Liz’s fiery outbursts, making him the only person she knows who she can’t unintentionally (or intentionally) hurt, which makes them at least somewhat compatible.
The film’s main plot picks up when the team are sent to investigate an alarm at a local museum after all its guards suddenly disappeared. It turns out that the cause of the disappearances and the alarm was a supernatural creature called Sammael, which is immortal. And Hellboy has only one approach to solving supernatural threats, which is to shoot and kick it until it goes away. So, the two are definitely not compatible, at all.
The threat escalates when it is revealed that Rasputin is the reason the immortal creature was in the museum. It was all part of his original plan back during the 2nd World War to free the Seven Gods of Chaos, the final part being Hellboy. It turns out that Hellboy’s unusually large right arm is a key that’s meant to open a portal for them to pass into the world through, and this puts Hellboy in a difficult position.
It may not seem like a difficult choice to make for us, but Hellboy is eager for connection as he has spent most of his life hidden from plain sight, knowing only his father and the personnel at the Bureau. He sometimes came into the limelight, mostly unintentionally, when he got seen saving people from supernatural threats, but nobody gave him the credit he deserved. People ran in fear and called him a freak, and the Bureau was thoroughly disappointed in him. He has saved the world many times already, and it didn’t make his life any better.
With his father dead, and convinced that Liz is moving on to date one of their human colleagues at the Bureau, Hellboy is forced to decide between saving the world or making it a better place for himself to live in. The film obviously has a happy ending since it spawned a sequel, and the moral of the story is summed up by agent Meyers, who answers a question posed earlier in the film: “What is it that makes a man a man? It’s the choices he makes.”
Despite del Toro’s trilogy not coming to fruition, this film and its sequel are good movies all on their own. They don’t have overly complex plots that pose a mental challenge to viewers like most films try to have these days, but that isn’t this movie’s point in the first place. Its point is to tell a simple, yet beautiful story about finding one’s place in the world and doing the right thing, even when it hurts you. It’s one of the rare films that conveys a simple and universal moral value to its viewers without being tedious about it. And it’s a fun film to watch even if you ignore the thought-provoking, deeply human story it tells.
I recommend this film to comic book fans and to action movie fans alike, and I would especially recommend it for a family movie night. While it has lots of intense action scenes, it’s rated PG-13. Just make sure it’s the 2004 Hellboy you’re streaming and not the 2019 reboot, or you’ll be in for a nasty surprise.
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