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For starters, it’s funny. Ron Perlman, painted red and decked out in horns (he files them down to look more normal), plays the title character with a deadpan delivery that Larry David would envy. Better yet, the live-action comic book that director Guillermo del Toro (Blade II, Cronos) puts onscreen actually bears a close relationship to Mike Mignola’s vividly drawn Dark Horse comic series about how Hellboy (his pals call him HB or Big Red) is rescued from Satan and the Nazis during World War II and given a home by Professor Broom (John Hurt). Now sixty, Hellboy lives in New Jersey, where the Professor has trained him to fight against evil at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Hellboy smokes cigars, stuffs himself with pancakes and stays undercover until monsters walk the earth. Then he is called on to kick ass, which he does with wicked glee. The monster attacks, exciting at first, grow grating with repetition. But del Toro, who wrote the screenplay, works in a hot relationship with Big Red and the pyrokinetic Liz, played by a wonderfully touching Selma Blair. Hellboy is on fire with scares and laughs and del Toro’s visionary dazzle. It’s the tenderness that comes as an unexpected bonus.

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