A richly imaginative comicbook world is unveiled in Hellboy. If only the story was as strong. Right hand like a block of stone, crimson skin and horns ground down "to fit in", the demon of the title (Ron Perlman) is conjured by the Nazis to help Hitler, but raised by the Allies to combat evil. Working under John Hurt's FBI father-figure, he suppresses the supernatural in modern-day America, but then the dastardly Rasputin (Karel Roden) is resurrected and wants him to fulfil his true destiny...
"IT'S A FASCINATING ALTERNATE UNIVERSE"
There are some great ideas here; it's a fascinating alternate universe where the monsters of mythology are world-threatening realities whose existence must be kept quiet. As Hurt puts it, "There are things that go bump in the night. We are the ones who bump back." The frustrating thing about Hellboy is that despite the superb production design, slick visuals and indulgent 132-minute running time, it only scratches the surface. You sense there are thousands of other stories in this vividly realised world, all probably more interesting than the one you're watching.
Writer-director Guillermo Del Toro (whose Blade II was similarly spectacular and hollow) uses Rupert Evans' rookie agent to introduce us to the material, as well as provide one side of an unconvincing love triangle with Hellboy and pyro-girl Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). This attempt at a narrative through-line doesn't stop the movie feeling fractured and episodic (hard to avoid when adapting from a comicbook), while the villain's peek-a-boo appearances are easily forgotten.
If only Del Toro had paid as much attention to this anaemic occult-botherer as to Hellboy himself - an enjoyably grouchy, adolescent ogre given glower, glint and charisma by know-the-face character actor Ron Perlman. His presence, the Morricone-style score and an excellent pre-credit origins sequence (with its Raiders Of The Lost Ark aura), ensure you're pretty far from hell. But you're pretty far from heaven, too.