Spawned from the warped mind of comic-book creator Mike Mignola, dripping with tentacled monstrosities and laced with acid wit, Hellboy isn't your average graphic novel. Despite a cadre of dedicated page-turners though, it was never going to be an easy cine-sell. So it's fortunate that one of those ardent readers - - Blade 2 helmer Guillermo Del Toro - - clung on to his desire to direct it while the film was pulled through the Hollyportal after years in Development Hell.
It's Del Toro's determination, therefore, that ensures Hellboy arrives in this dimension in such good shape. This is by no means a flawless film, but it's a solid, watchable adap that will delight those in the know while never alienating the ""Whoboy?"" -asking masses.
The standout here is a cigar-chomping turn by Ron Perlman, who never lets the bright red make-up and giant prosthetic right hand get in the way of creating a character that is by turns sarcastic, noble and depressed. As well-rounded a hero as you're likely to meet, he's impressive whether quipping in the midst of taking down a hellbeast or moping about disturbed psychic firebrand Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). It's just a shame the film tries to juggle too many good guys, a decision that inevitably means they all have less time to shine. Blair is all gloomy, haunted heroine as Liz, but the only time she strikes any real sparks is when she's starting fires. (Troublesome dreams set off one pyrotechnic episode.) John Hurt proves a likeable presence, but he's saddled with so much scene-setting dialogue, he may as well be renamed Professor Exposition. And while fish-man-thing Abe Sapien (Doug Jones in the suit, Frasier's David Hyde Pierce supplying the voice) adds some early quirk, he vanishes midway through, forgotten in the rush to the finale.
As for Hellboy's villains, scheming Rasputin (Karel Roden) is all panto badman, while his sidekick - - clockwork-zombie assassin Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) - - is wasted. This freakish fighter matches not only Darth Maul's skill with weapons, but also his criminally brief screentime, and where Spider-Man 2 boasted a fully nuanced nemesis, Hellboy's other demons are just CGI beasties, bumping attempts at balanced characterisation in favour of Men In Black-style monster mashes.
There's still plenty to like aside from Big Red, though: Del Toro builds in much of the comic's backstory, while the HP Lovecraftian creatures combine puppetry and pixels to spectacular effect, channelling Mignola's art to paint each frame with a singular style. When Hellboy works, it soars. But while Del Toro's zealous direction means it's never less than entertaining, the film doesn't quite reach the sheer heights of its genre colleagues.
Assured but patchy, fun but fleeting, Hellboy works up to a point. One thing's for sure: Ron Perlman should get a lot more work after this...