Posted: Monday, April 05, 2004

When is good enough not good enough? This is the question I've been asking myself ever since I walked out of the theater after watching this season's newest paranormal superhero extravaganza. I mean, what do I want? I like the X-Men. I like Batman. I like comic books. What am I looking for? It may be a hard question to answer, but I know one thing: I sure didn't find it in Hellboy.

What's wrong with this movie is not near as important as what's not right about it. Hellboy, the movie, was spawned from Hellboy, the comic, a dark, quirky, underground publication that is read by maybe six people in the back of some dark back-alley comic book shop, and yet enjoys a dedicated cult following. It is not particularly well known, but with the interest in comic book properties these days, notoriety is not necessarily a prerequisite. The story is basically this: During World War II, Hitler, obsessed with the idea of using the occult as a weapon against the Allies, commissions a shadowy assassin and his creepy Russian buddy (turns out it's Rasputin, still alive for some vague, devil worshipesque reason) to break through the veil of Ostracoth and release the Seven Lords of Chaos from the infernal region of... I don't know. I'm just making all that up, but it was something like that. Anyway, the bad guys fail, but in doing so, accidentally spur on the arrival of a baby demon with one huge stone fist. And wouldn't you know it, the baby is adopted by a British occult researcher, who raises him as a son. Fast forward about sixty years, and now our little Hellboy is fightin' crime for the good guys. Unfortunately, however, the assassin and the Russian are back to wreak havoc, and the game is on.

It's too bad that this movie didn't try to play more on it's crazy-sexy-cool reputation and less on trying to fit in. What could have been strange and thought provoking - or just strange is , instead, simply ordinary. It ends up being just like almost every other one of these movies you've seen. How many times, to this point, have we been subjected to the big burly hero, anti-social but not evil, pound his way to save the day, wisecrackin' and chewing on a stogie the whole time. One too many, I guess. This movie has a major insecurity complex, in my opinion, because it does whatever the masses want. There's no subtext, no kitch, no appeal. Yes, Ron Perlman does a fine job as Hellboy. And yes, the special effects are awesome. Where, however, is the soul? Maybe it was devoured by one of the myriad soul-swallowing horrors that populate the film. There's no telling.

In the wake of the debacle that was Batman and Robin, Hollywood was finally convinced that readers of comics wanted their medium taken seriously. However, there should be some common sense. A movie about a group of mutants who run a school for the gifted and fight crime in their offtime may not seem to make any more sense than Hellboy, but in context it does. There are larger issues at stake in the X-Men films, and the regularlessness of the mutant's basic humanity is central to the comic. It makes sense that you would play this story seriously and straightforward. Hellboy, however, has the freedom and the responsibility to be different, odd, and great fun. I mean, it's a demon who fights crime with the aide of a psychic Mer-man and a Firestarter. Make it scary! Make it funny! Make it different. Inexplicably, Hell plays it straight right out of the box. Issues like romance, responsibility, and longing are touched on and hinted at, but dropped quickly after, and, with no foundation to fall back on, this overheavy. self-important, effects-laden, punch-fest crashes to the ground.

While I am marginally glad that I went to see this movie, it's hard because I keep imaging what it should have been. What it could have been with just a little bit of creativity. I am envisioning something more like an art-piece, an indie film in big budget clothes. Or, maybe they should have made it hilarious. I really don't know, but anything besides ordinary would do. The concepts are strange and different. It's the execution that's off. It's too dependent on the banter and big monster Battle-Royales. The tagline states, "In the absence of light, darkness will prevail." I don't know about darkness, but mediocrity certainly does. Grade: C+ Hellboy is rated PG-13 for scary, intense scenes.

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