The following is a review of Hellboy (2019) — Directed by Neil Marshall.
In 2004 and 2008, Oscar-winning auteur Guillermo del Toro brought us two critically well-received comic book monster movies about Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics creation ‘Hellboy,’ a red Nazi-summoned half-demon that fights for the human race against monsters and other dark forces. Even though del Toro is a beloved figure and his films are still held in high regard, del Toro’s request for a third film was denied. Instead, producers decided that it was time to replace the first two films’ auteur — del Toro, who had a real, recognizable love for his creatures — and its indispensable leading man, Ron Perlman — who was absolutely perfect in the role — in a new reboot of the franchise.
This new reboot comes from Neil Marshall, the director of horror-favorite The Descent, who has infused Mignola’s comic book universe with a whole lot of gore and violence, for better or worse. Marshall’s film opens with a black-and-white-and-red slightly self-aware lore dump sequence in which it is explained that, long ago, King Arthur beheaded and quartered the sorceress Nimue (played by Milla Jovovich) — also known as, the Blood Queen. We then jump forward to the present day, in which the greatest paranormal investigator, Hellboy (played by David Harbour), is spooked by a prophecy involving him.
An angsty and quippy agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), Hellboy is soon hired to stop Nimue from enacting her plan to release a plague on mankind. But, as Hellboy and his partners — Alice Monaghan (played by Sasha Lane) and the shape-shifting Ben Daimio (played by Daniel Dae Kim) — soon find out, Hellboy is integral to Nimue’s masterplan.
One thing that I was actually a little bit shocked worked as well as it did was David Harbour as the titular character. Now, I like Harbour just fine, but the fact of the matter is that I have always thought that Ron Perlman was so utterly perfect in the del Toro films. Perlman is Hellboy in the same way that Chris Evans is Captain America and Christopher Reeve is Superman. I genuinely believe that. But, with that having been said, Harbour does the best he possibly could with the material he is given. Though I was irked by the fact that it wasn’t Perlman on-screen, Harbour is perfectly fine in the film. He doesn’t improve on anything, but that would be tough to do.
I will also say that, though there are some creature-designs that worked less successfully due to visual effects, the creature design and effects for Baba Yaga, a deformed and frightening witch, were quite effective. Baba Yaga is both the scariest and most interesting villainous creature in the film, and her appearance was disturbing in the way the best horror creatures are disturbing and nightmare-inducing. Finally, Sasha Lane’s character is the most interesting supporting character in the film. Her magical abilities are the most fascinating, and she was the character I most wanted to see more of. And I think that is where my positive notes for Hellboy 2019 end.
With Neil Marshall’s Hellboy, gone is the affection for the creatures on-screen that made del Toro’s films, but, instead, Marshall’s film boasts an R-rating of which it is giddy to make full use. Now, I don’t mind swearing at all — I swear like a sailor, at times — and I don’t mind blood and violence in films. But the lengths that this film goes to make it an undeniable gorefest is, honestly, exhausting and numbing.
As I briefly mentioned previously, some of the visual effects work against the film. The full-on attack on London from the Blood Queen’s army, which was teased in the trailers, is extremely gory and the creatures here did not look good. Furthermore, Hellboy’s intensely bright — when compared to the rest of the film — battle with three trolls is dizzying and not the impressive showstopper, I think the producers and Marshall intended it to be.
I was also frustrated by many of the characters, their relationships, and some of the performances. Daniel Dae-Kim’s shape-shifting character is a mostly vexing character with a rushed backstory, and Ian McShane is given absolutely nothing to do other than to speak in exposition dumps and be a part of an unearned father-demon son-relationship. You, frustratingly, do not get the scenes or moments that would make you care about the characters you are watching. There is no room for affection in a film like this, which is obsessed with beheadings, blood, and impaled or torn human bodies.
Most, if not all, of the one-liners, fall flat or are groan-inducing. Hellboy isn’t the fun, self-aware film that it wants to be. But it certainly does feel like the kind of film where producers insisted on adding in a ton of pop-rock songs to freshen the film up, in an effort to resemble James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Here they fail with the soundtrack, as it doesn’t bring new life to the action, it is just frustratingly distracting.
The three non-Hellboy-related films that Marshall’s film reminded me of were Alex Kurtzman’s sequel-hungry The Mummy, David Ayer’s shoddily-edited and soundtrack-wrecked Suicide Squad, and Duncan Jones’ filled-to-the-brim and confusing Warcraft. Hellboy has those same issues. However, it doesn’t have the star-power of Kurtzman’s disappointing film, it doesn’t have the freshness of Ayer’s frustrating film, and it certainly does not have the visual power of Jones’ ambitious film. Neil Marshall’s Hellboy-reboot is woefully unnecessary, unfunny, wearisome, and numbing. It is one step forward, and three steps back for the Hellboy-film series, which has gained ultraviolence and lost character, affection, and heart.
4 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.