THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
“Some things simply don’t translate to the big screen. Men in rubber costumes certainly don’t.”
I should start this with an upfront admission. One, this isn't a Christmas movie, but it does star a demon from hell. Two, I’m a Hellboy fan. I’ve been collecting Mike Mignola’s various mini series since the 1990’s, starting with Seed of Destruction if I can remember that far back (which served as the basis for this movie). I always loved the darkness, the humor, the paranormal, and the damn weirdness. It read and looked like nothing else.
Now, while this column is an explanation of why Hellboy doesn’t hold up on repeat viewings, I don’t have anything negative to say about Ron Perlman. This is his movie, and it finally gave him the chance to make him a household name. Sure, dude once again didn’t show his face, but Hellboy relaunched his career. I think it made people remember him and think he’d make a good biker. Plus, he got to shoot some bad ass giant guns.
Anyway, if anyone could bring Hellboy to the screen, it would seem to be del Toro as he has one of those unique signature styles like a Tim Burton or a David Cronenberg. However, as unique as his vision is, his movies feel hokey, always a bit corny on a number of different fronts. I suppose that’s the reason he’s the “perfect fit” for a movie like this. Combine demon characters with humor and action and you've got box office gold. Or at least box office bronze. The problem with adaptations is that they forget they’re an adaptation, not a copy. I wanted to see del Toro create his own vision of the character, take him to a darker, meaner place. Instead, he, much like Zack Snyder, remained faithful to a fault. Hellboy didn’t have to go gruesome R, but it could it could have taken a page from more successful films like V for Vendetta, which could have been unwatchable if humor dominated; instead it was serious, playful, and brutal. It was everything that Hellboy could have been.
By no means is Hellboy the worst movie ever created. With Del Toro’s visual style, it’s hard not to enjoy. Looking back though, I’m not so sure Hellboy stands the test of time. Maybe it’s Christopher Nolan’s fault. Or perhaps Richard Donner’s. Minus a handful of films, I now like my comic movies on the serious side or at least a blend of reality with fiction. Hellboy does attempt to do that. Unfortunately, a man in a giant red rubber suit makes it tough to believe. He reminds me of The Thing from Fantastic Four. Some things simply don’t translate to the big screen. Men in rubber costumes certainly don’t. The same goes for Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen. Shit ends up looking cheesy even if well done. Hellboy certainly is. Pearlman’s makeup is flawless, and it looks as if it didn’t limit his mobility. But the rest of the special effects looked dated, if not down right fake. At least it does have a bad ass Nazi samurai.
Another annoyance comes from the tongue and cheek humor and the romance. The latter works to some extent, but it ends up just awkward and maybe even a little forced. For the former, seriously, does anyone really laugh at one-liners? When Hellboy rescues a box full of kittens during a subway brawl with a demon, the demon’s tentacles latch onto our hero, who replies, “Second date. No tongue.” On comic paper, it’s amusing, but in the context of an epic movie battle, it’s dumb, lowbrow. It removes tension and becomes another dumbed-down action movie.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love 80’s cheese, but sometimes when watching that selection brand of cheese, I wonder what the film could have been if it had taken itself just a little bit more seriously. What if Hellboy would have been in hands of a David Fincher or David Cronenberg? Now that would have been something.