Friday, January 2, 2009

Oh hell, boy

I've written in my blog about some pretty high-profile superhero movies - namely the Batman and Spider-Man films. And one day, I'll get to writing about the Superman films. However, I just watched my Blu-Ray of Hellboy 2, and I thought that I'd write my thoughts about the Hellboy movies. Unlike pretty much every other review you'd read though, this one will be written by a fan of the comics.

Not only am I a fan of the comics, but I am a fan of Mike Mignola in general. He's the guy who created the character, and for the most part has written and illustrated all of the comics. I don't remember exactly when his work caught my attention, but it was likely the graphic novel Gotham by Gaslight, which tells the story of an alternate Batman who has to face-off with Jack the Ripper. (I've always had a bit of a Jack the Ripper fixation - which is yet one more thing that I need to eventually write about.)

So, when I heard that Mignola was going to be producing his creator-owned book, I knew that I had to pick that up. I believe that was in the early 90s, and I've been consistently picking up every new series since then. (But I haven't picked up the offshoot projects that featured Hellboy's supporting characters - mainly because Mignola himself doesn't work on them.)

If you've seen the movies, then you have somewhat of an idea as to what Hellboy is like and what it's all about. However, there are some pretty big differences as well. Basically, what's the same is his origin story - the Nazis (assisted by a resurrected Rasputin) inadvertently brought forth a demon-child from the depths of hell into our world. The child is supposed to herald the end of the world. However, he's raised by a caring old man and trained to fight monsters and other supernatural threats, and he rejects his destiny.

Also, just like in the movies, he's supposed to be an investigator. However, as Guillermo del Toro (the director of the films) once pointed out, Hellboy's idea of investigation is to open a door, see a monster, and then proceed to beat the crap out of it. There are also a lot of other little details that the movie includes, like how he says "Oh, crap!" a lot. Also, he tends to take some pretty heavy beatings. (Once he jumped out of an airplane and his jetpack exploded with him on it.)

So, the basic premise is the same. What's very different is the tone. The comic is darker and a lot less jokey. Also, the main character is even more two-dimensional in the comics, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it tends to fit his adventures a bit more. Most significantly, there is no love story. Sure, Liz Sherman is in the comics, but the stories that Mignola tells are more about fighting monsters and exploring mythology.

Anyway, when I first heard that they were going to feature Hellboy in a movie, I got pretty excited. I got even more excited when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct it. Not only do I feel that his installment of the Blade franchise the best (part II), but I also enjoyed his smaller, independent films The Devil's Backbone and Chronos. (At the time, his hands-down best film Pan's Labyrinth hadn't come out yet.) I figured that if anybody could really get Hellboy, it would be this guy. Oh, and it turned out that he was already a big fan of the comics, and not only that, he knew exactly who needed to play the part - Ron Perlman.

So, what did I think of the movies? I liked them both tremendously. I'm not sure which one I like more. The subject matter of the second one is definitely more up my alley - as I agree with the message of the film that myths, fairy tales, etcetera are important, and it would be a shame if they all went away as we enter into a more technologically-advanced world. The first one had some cooler villains, and fewer moments that I really didn't enjoy (like lil' Hellboy in part 2).

The thing is though, I don't really recommend these films to everybody like I would something like Iron Man or The Dark Knight. I think that these movies are definitely aimed at a particular audience, and I just happen to be a part of that audience. It's not even so much a comic book fan audience as people who have and appreciate a big imagination. With both films, it's like Del Toro took Mignola's creation, tweaked it a bit, and then threw every idea he had at the wall. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but when they do work they're pretty tremendous.

For instance, in the second movie, there's a great scene where the main characters enter the troll market. A lot of critics praised that particular scene, as it's up there with the cantina scene in the original Star Wars as far as the sights to discover and the sheer reckless creativity that went into making it. Also, there's just something cool where the heroes consist of a demon, a fish-man, and a guy made out of smoke. If just the idea of those three characters working together makes you smile, then you just might be the proper audience.

If you haven't seen the movies, and you're not sure if they would appeal to you, I think that the real test is this: Do you find the idea of a demon and a fish guy singing a Barry Manilow song together to be just slightly shy of sublime? If the answer's yes, then these movies are for you. If you think that's one of the lamest things you've ever heard, then trust me, you'll hate them.

Oh, and in case you're wondering how the critics liked them - 80% on Rotten Tomatoes for the first; 88% for the second. Frankly, I'm surprised that they went over that well, but maybe most film critics are like me where a scene like that pretty much wins them over.

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