Hell's High Point

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Comic book characters are hot properties in Hollywood right now. From the ongoing Spider-Man franchise to a new Batman project and even offbeat ditties like Man-Thing, studios are dishing out the superhero flicks like mad. Inevitably, the trend will play out and few rotten egg films will kill the momentum and spoil everything for the whole genre (anybody remember Batman Forever?). Until then, comic book and action movie fans should just enjoy the ride. Revolution Studios' Hellboy is one of the relative high points on that ride.
Like a cross between X-Men and the Ghostbusters, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense is a collection of government funded, super-powered oddballs who spend their nights battling other super-powered oddballs for the fate of the world. The misfits include a telepathic fishman, an emotionally fragile firestarter and a big, red demonic manchild with a soft spot for kittens (and these are the good guys). Those up to evil deeds include a blond-haired Nazi pin-up girl, Hitler’s quietest, creepiest and deadliest assassin and the mad, immortal monk Rasputin, whose master plan involves paving the way for a bunch of tentacled chaos gods to take over all creation. Believe it or not, the movie isn’t based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, but instead on the Dark Horse comic by writer/artist Mike Mignola. The main appeal of the comic has always been Mignola’s lush, atmospheric artwork, and the film does it justice with inspired visuals, including dead-on character designs and CGI effects that blend seamlessly with the live-action shots.  Unfortunately, for a setup this offbeat and imaginative, Hellboy takes itself awfully serious at times. An unrequited love and a strained father/son relationship pack far less wallop than Hellboy’s stone-fisted right cross. There are also far too many characters to share the spotlight, including the kindly, aging professor, the likable but doomed right-hand-man, the meddling, narrow-minded boss and of course, the new guy out to prove himself. Hellboy works best when the action and the witty one-liners are coming fast and furious. When it pauses for melodrama, you start to realize that at a little over two hours, it’s a little too long.

Director Guillermo del Toro previously demonstrated his comic-adapting chops on Blade II and for a while was attached to direct The Coffin, based on the Oni mini-series by Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston.  Hellboy star Ron Perlman is no stranger to prosthetics, as he’s best known for his role as the lion-faced romantic lead in the 1980s cult classic TV series, “Beauty and the Beast.” The rest of the cast is equally strong, including the always-hilarious Jeffrey Tambor and the legendary John Hurt. The showstealer, however, is still Mignola’s imagination, which shines through despite a muddled script. 

If you dig this film, don’t bother waiting for the sequel, but do yourself a favor and look up one of the many Hellboy trade paperbacks and check out Mignola’s imagination at its most unfettered.

- Jason Aaron

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