There’s a good chance that, of all the many dozens of superhero movies released during the last few years, Hellboy is the one you haven’t seen. A protagonist who’s a big red demon? Not a single A-list star (unless you count John Hurt, which sadly few do)? A director who, at the time of Hellboy’s release in 2004 was best known for the so-so superhero sequel Blade II and shoddy monster movie Mimic?
Of course, for those who were aware of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics and of Guillermo del Torro’s track record of cult Spanish-language movie inventiveness, the marrying of the two was as near a perfect selection as you could wish for. Del Torro may be all the rage now, following his massive success with Pan’s Labyrinth, but he’s been making similarly unusual films for years – most notably 1993’s intriguing vampire flick Cronos and 2001’s Spanish Civil War ghost story The Devil’s Backbone, a semi-precursor to Pan’s Labyrinth. If you looked past the obvious (the shoddy plotting and often less than convincing acting), even Blade II and Mimic had their moments – notably the fantastic sense of design that went into the various monsters on display, and the all-pervading sense of gloom and dread.
Monsters, gloom and dread – what better qualities for a film about a demon raised by Nazis who goes on to battle evil through the latter decades of the 20th century? You can certainly see why they picked del Torro to direct – and he ended up producing one of the most underrated superhero flicks ever made. Yes, it has its flaws – the pacing is a touch slow in places, and the storyline chosen for the film version may not have necessarily been the best from the comics’ back catalogue – but the visual inventiveness was at times staggering, backed up by a wonderfully charismatic central performance by cult favourite character actor Ron Perlman. That it has managed to get a sequel may be a surprise, having only grossed $99 million worldwide on a $60 million budget, but it is a welcome one.
But enough – the cult credentials have been amply demonstrated. Why should a non-geek want to check out a film starring an actor they’ve probably never heard of about a superhero they know nothing about when they haven’t seen the first film in the series – and especially when the main villain is played by one of the twins from cheesy 80s pop sensation Bros? Simple: this is far and away the most visually stunning movie of the summer, with a sense of design unlike anything you’ll have seen outside of a del Torro film – and with a plot that will suck you in to its bizarre alternate world in a way you haven’t experienced for years.
Plus, of course, it’ll give you a handy taster of what to expect from del Torro’s next big cinematic offering – because he’s been chosen to fill Peter Jackson’s shoes on the two Lord of the Rings prequels due out in 2011 and 2012. An appointment that was only made, it should be noted, after completion of this movie. Which is just about the highest praise you could wish for. No studio in their right mind would trust such a massive franchise to anyone unless they had complete faith in them – and Peter Jackson was never going to hand his baby over to someone likely to mutilate it. If Hellboy II is good enough to land him the job of directing The Hobbit, then you know that del Torro must be on fire with this unexpected sequel.