Face-Off: Blade vs. Hellboy

With this weekend's release of DOCTOR STRANGE, which comes from SINISTER / DELIVER US FROM EVIL director Scott Derrickson, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be dipping a toe into genre waters, and in the build-up to this event I wanted to have a Face-Off between two other genre-edged superhero movies. The two that stood out as the best contenders were Stephen Norrington's 1998 Marvel adaptation BLADE and Guillermo del Toro's 2004 Dark Horse adaptation HELLBOY. (Coincidentally, del Toro also directed BLADE II.) With these films, we have a pair of badass heroes taking on the forces of evil while having a touch of evil themselves. Let's set them loose on each other and see how it turns out.
1967. A woman is rushed into a hospital, giving birth while dying from a bite wound to the neck. The child that is born is named Eric Brooks, but we'll come to know him as Blade. Blade's mother was bitten by a vampire, but while he is cursed with the thirst for blood (which he keeps under control with injections of a serum) and has the super strength of a creature of the night, since he wasn't bit directly he doesn't have some of the average vampire's weaknesses: for example, he's able to go outside during the day. By 1998, Blade is a seasoned vampire hunter, waging war on the bloodsucker underworld and seeking to wipe out this scourge with stakes, garlic, guns, and of course a sword and other sorts of blades. While he doesn't show a lot of personality, it is fun to watch him kick ass.
In 1944, a group of immortal mystics working for the Nazis opened a gateway to Hell in an attempt to let ancient evil beings called the Seven Gods of Chaos through. During the brief time this portal was open, what came through instead was a baby demon the Allied forces that found him named Hellboy. Sixty years later, Hellboy, who ages slower than humans, is a 6'5" badass working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, taking on the forces of evil with the large stone fist he has for a right hand and a big gun he calls the Good Samaritan. There is evil buried deep within Hellboy, but on the surface he's a fun, irreverent guy who likes cats and cares deeply for the oddball family that has formed around him. This is the most likeable demon you've ever seen.
To explain what's going on with Blade, the audience gets a stand-in in the form of hematologist Karen Jenson, who is targeted by the vampires while seeking a cure to the vampire infection. A lot of the exposition is delivered to her by Blade's vampire hunter mentor Whistler, a honky tonk hero so awesome that he was brought back for the two sequels even though he dies in this movie. Karen's a tough woman who gets the hang of this vampire fighting business pretty quickly and develops a hell of a weapon to use against them.
The audience stand-in for this introduction to the world of BRPD is new agent John Myers, who is a good guy but is mainly only there for other characters to speak exposition to. Hellboy's important companions are his ailing father figure Trevor Bruttenholm; highly intelligent and telepathic gillman Abe Sapien; and the love of Hellboy's life, troubled pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, who struggles to control her fire-starting abilities. Each of them is instantly appealing, and it's fun to watch them interact with each other.
Deacon Frost has been around for quite a while, in fact he's the vampire who bit Blade's mom, but he still conducts himself like a rebellious, petulant youngster. He's kind of annoying in that way, but he does have a plan that could wipe out humankind - he wants to summon the vampire blood god La Magra. He is aided in this endeavor by a small army of bloodsuckers, including his repeatedly injured right hand man Quinn and a couple vampire brides. These vamps aren't exactly intimidating, they might as well just be a bunch of club kids, but they're dangerous and detestable enough that they're still a decent group of enemies.
I'm not really into the villains in this film. The ones that get the most screen time and give Hellboy the most trouble are just tentacled beasts, and while I enjoy watching them get knocked around, they're not very interesting. Grigori Rasputin is the main villain, and while he is certainly evil, again, I'm not interested in him or his right hand woman Ilsa. The only member of this bunch that I find entertaining is the blade-wielding assassin Kroenen, a masked surgery addict whose blood has dried to dust and whose body functions with wind-up machinery. His weirdness livens up an otherwise dour rogues gallery.
BLADE really shines in this department, packing a whole lot of action into its two hour running time, most of it of the martial arts fighting type - and since Blade's opponents turn to ash and bones when they'll killed, that adds an extra level of cool visuals to the fight scenes. Blade gets to beat, slash, and shoot his way through many vampires over the course of this film, and I get a great deal of enjoyment from watching each of these altercations.
Most of the action in here consists of Hellboy and roaring creatures beating the hell out of each other, which I felt got a little old eventually. These fisticuffs provide some thrills and cause a lot of property damage, though. Then the end brings... a fight with an even bigger tentacled monster than the monsters he was fighting earlier, robbing us of climactic confrontations with Hellboy's more human opponents. Except for Kroenen, who goes out like a chump.
BLADE never gets exceptionally dark and doesn't delve much further into horror than having vampires bare their fangs and turn to dust, but there are some interesting creature designs and creepy things in there - a young man realizing he's the only human at a rave as blood pours from the sprinklers, a man who becomes a zombie of sorts, a burnt-to-a-crisp vampire in a morgue who you know is going to revive and attack any second. It's a level of horror that won't push away action movie viewers who might not otherwise watch a vampire movie.
There is a heavy layer of horror and unease to this film, which the comedy among the BRPD group attempts to balance out, but this still comes off as feeling very dark overall. You have a creepy main villain, Nazis, evil gods, man-eating monsters, and a demon hero who may be destined to unleash Hell on Earth. There's even a zombie, as Hellboy is capable of reviving certain dead people and uses a rotten corpse to guide him into a subterranean lair. Viewers wanting a superhero movie might find the horror and strangeness of HELLBOY to be a bit too much.
This is one of those instances where the result of a Face-Off surprises even me. Although I find BLADE to be a more entertaining film than HELLBOY overall, HELLBOY still pulls off a win in the majority of the categories. While BLADE has more and better action and villains that I find more appealing, I can't deny that HELLBOY has a more charismatic group of heroes. It also has a more disturbing horror element to it... So when this match-up reaches its conclusion, Hellboy can walk away with his Right Hand of Doom raised high in victory.

What do you think of the result? Does HELLBOY deserve the win, or should BLADE have been the victor? What are your favorite movies in the BLADE and HELLBOY franchises? And will you be seeing DOCTOR STRANGE? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. If you'd like to suggest a future Face-Off pairing, you can e-mail me at [email protected].



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