This film represents the marriage of so many perfect elements, and marriages within marriages — of the character Hellboy to Ron Perlman, of Lovecraft to Nazi occultism, of ancient demons to the urban gothic, of scifi conspiracy fiction to weird tales, and of all these things to director Guillermo del Toro.
The cherry atop is that the action is solid, the characterization is satisfying, and it’s a good story. But the fact that Hellboy is great movie in the conventional sense is only half the tale. Not even Hellboy II looks like this one — it’s our live-action Wolfenstein, or perhaps the same vision of Frankenstein’s Army but without the elbow-nudging.
It’s a well-structured movie with a lot to juggle. To help, we have an audience proxy character to guide us through the increasingly freakish world of the BPRD: firestarter, fish-man, straightup demon, and then the bad guys.
For Hellboy himself, this is not exactly an origin story, but a logical starting place. It’s a fairly loose adaptation of the Seeds of Destruction storyline, in which the same Rasputin appears to try his hand at bringing Hellboy’s stone hand to its destiny.
Hellboy is a demon, raised by humans, who files his horns down and wears tight black shirts. He may just well be a lesson in nurture over nature — but a more palatable one is seeing one of those aforementioned horns stabbed in your resurrected gut.
Being less an origin story than a belated coming-of-age tale, Hellboy is self-contained as a fulfilling fantasy adventure with the spice of cosmic horror, perfectly seasoned.