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HELLBOY

BY PETER KEOUGH

Which prevails, nature or nurture? Make that super-nature in Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro’s exhilarating adaptation of the Mike Mignola comic book. Although not as oft repeated as the refrain "Great power means great responsibility" was in Spider-Man, the opening voiceover from Professor Trevor Buttenholm (John Hurt), "What makes a man a man?", gets a workout. Does it matter that the "man" in question is a red-skinned imp with horns, a tail, and a battering-ram arm spawned in a Nazi black-magic experiment gone awry (the film’s astounding pre-credit sequence is a prelude to a tour de force of set decoration, montage, and imagery)? Or is it more important that he’s been shaped by Bruttenholm’s paternal love and Baby Ruth bars into a trench-coated, gun-slinging demonic dick fighting a reincarnated Rasputin (Karel Roden) and all the monstrous minions of the gods of chaos?

Even in the midst of the most outlandish effects and cornball dialogue (the romance with Selma Blair’s "pyro-kinetic" Liz is tepid at best), Hellboy, played by Ron Perlman in one the year’s best performances, makes those questions matter. Wisecracking, tormented, scary, and sexy, he pulls together the film’s kaleidoscope of imagery and allusions (from Gustave Doré’s engravings for The Inferno to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, X-Men, Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and Milton’s Paradise Lost), not so much through his diabolical power as with his bemused humanity. (132 minutes)


Issue Date: April 2 - 8, 2004
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