Hellboy (2004)—An Underrated Comic Book Film
Updated: Sep 17, 2021
Hellboy (2004) is a movie based on a series of comic books from Dark Horse Comics, which was adapted by legendary filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. The film opens up with a young Professor Broom with Allied forces during World War II. They discover the Nazis attempting to open a portal to unleash the demons of Hell upon the world, led by paranormal specialist Grigori Rasputin, his partner Ilsa, and Hitler’s top assassin, Karl Ruprect Kroenen. The Allies successfully thwart the Nazis’ attempt, however, Professor Broom and the Allies realize that a young demonic child had come through the portal.
Broom decides to adopt the child and we cut to the present, where an adult Hellboy fights monsters for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). He is unsatisfied with his life, angry that he is locked in a bunker underground away from people, with his only company being the BPRD agents looking over him and Abe Sapien, a blue humanoid aquatic creature who can sense thoughts. A new agent, John Myers, has been transferred from the FBI to act as a caretaker for Hellboy. Initially, Hellboy doesn’t like Agent Myers. However, when Myers brings back Liz Sherman, Hellboy’s former teammate and romantic interest, Hellboy begins to warm up to him. Hellboy discovers that Rasputin was the one who brought him to this world and begins to have conflicting feelings about his origins and allegiance. After Broom is killed by Kroenen and Rasputin, Hellboy swears vengeance on the latter. While trying to stop him, Hellboy and the BPRD are lured into a trap set by Rasputin to force Hellboy to open the three gates of Hell and unleash the apocalypse.
Guillermo Del Toro wanted to make a movie about what it truly means to be human. To do so, he worked closely with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola to ensure that Hellboy would stay true to his roots. The film opens up with Professor Broom asking the question of what makes someone human with the question being answered by Agent Myers at the end, saying that it’s not his origins, but his choices that makes someone human. Despite working with Mignola on the story, Del Toro took many liberties from the source material. For example, the character of John Myers never existed in the comics: he was made for the movie. Furthermore, Karl Ruprect Kroenen was originally a Nazi scientist, however, in the film, he is an undead assassin.
Del Toro helped oversee the design of all the Hellboy characters. According to Del Toro, the theme of asymmetry is paramount in creating the individual looks for all the characters. For example, Hellboy’s right “Hand of Doom” is made of chunky red stone as opposed to his left arm, which looks normal. Another major visual theme was the idea of labyrinths. Del Toro stated that he wanted the idea of a labyrinth to represent the choices he has to make between choosing to be the monster he was born as or to be a human that was raised by Broom. The costumes of the characters were all made via practical effects. Ron Perlman, who played Hellboy, had to sit through several hours in the makeup chair. These costumes typically consisted of under suits of cloth followed by a rubber exterior that resembled musculature. Finally, special effects makeup would be added on the actors’ faces. In addition, many aspects of the costumes also consisted of animatronics, for example, Kroenen’s mechanical hand.
Hellboy (2004) was produced on a budget of about $60 million dollars and made $40 million in North America and nearly $100 million worldwide. With this financial success along with very positive critical reviews, a sequel was in development. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2007) continues the rich lore of its characters while also adding new characters and story elements. Del Toro was given more creative control on this film, and it really shows when we look at the designs of the characters and the rich environment. The scene of the Golden Army awakening is absolutely breathtaking and the CGI still holds up by today’s standards.
When it comes to good comic book films, people generally point to either The Dark Knight (2008) or The Avengers (2012). However, few people realize that before these films came out, Hellboy (2004) was a landmark in comic book filmmaking. Unlike many entries at the time, it featured strong visuals and good story telling. In a world where comic book films rule the entertainment industry, few of those films tell stories of what it truly means to be human. Hellboy (2004) just happens to be one of those films.