HELLBOY (2019) ½
R, 120 mins.
2019, R, 120 mins.
David Harbour as Hellboy / Milla Jovovich as Nimue the Blood Queen / Ian McShane as Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm / Daniel Dae Kim as Major Ben Daimio / Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan / Penelope Mitchell as Ganeida / Brian Gleeson as Merlin / Sophie Okonedo as Lady Hatton / Thomas Haden Church as Lobster Johnson
Directed by Neil Marshall / Written by Andrew Cosby
Back in 2004 writer/director Guillermo del Toro introduced movie audiences to the bizarre comic book universe of HELLBOY, which in turn was born in comic book form thanks to Mike Mignola.
enjoyed that film as a preposterously imaginative fantasy that was
unafraid to go against the grain of obligatory genre fare of the era.
That, and del Toro painted the screen with luscious art direction
and then cutting edge visual effects, which was all complimented by an
inspired performance in the titular role by the incomparable Ron Perlman. The inevitable 2009
sequel carried on the first film's marriage of dark comedy and
supernatural monster intrigue, but worked less successfully overall.
Despite my issues with both films, though, del Toro's HELLBOY
series was an audacious original all on its own wacky terms.
all builds up, unfortunately, to the new HELLBOY film, which is not a
sequel to finish off del Toro's trilogy, but rather - sigh - a
reboot of those films, with a complete overhaul of the narrative, actors,
and crew behind the camera. Rather
inexplicably, HELLBOY III was supposed to happen with del Toro and Perlman
in tow, but never materialized when the filmmaker was not offered the job
of bringing his trilogy to final fruition (and considering that he became
a recent Oscar winner for THE SHAPE OF
WATER, it makes it all the more head shakingly inexplicable).
Rather predictably and mournfully, the resulting del Toro and
Perlman free HELLBOY reboot emerges as truly and obnoxiously crude, loud,
and uninspired, which is made all the more shameful because it genuinely
lacks the imaginative flair and visual inspiration that the previous
entries brought to the table.
big and not quite so welcoming difference this go around is this new
film's predilection towards being an ultra hard R rated effort (del Toro
pushed the edginess as far as he could for a PG-13 rating).
This is apparent within the first few minutes of HELLBOY redux,
which opens in the Dark Ages of 517 A.D. and shows a large bird gorging on
and sucking up the eye balls of a dead corpse (yuck).
We then meet the film's newest villain in the Blood Witch Nimue (Milla
Jovovich, with a questionably on again, off again accent), who has a
chance meeting with King Arthur (yes, that one), who beheads her
with Excalibur, chops her up into several pieces and places them in
multiple sealed crates, and then ships them off to various segregated
placed across England. I
guess if you want to ensure a world destroying witch's death...this
is the way to do it.
then cut to the present day as we are introduced to Hellboy (played
admirably in the film's only creative highlight by David Harbour) who's
tasked by his employers at the FBI's Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense
to stop any attempts by nefarious foes to locate Nimue's body parts,
reassemble them, and bring about her wraith and the apocalypse.
He's supported by his foster dad in Trevor (Ian McShane), but
unfortunately for "Big Red" he's doubled crossed and left nearly
for dead, until, of course, he's rescued by a medium named Alice (Sasha
Lane) and Ben (Daniel Day Kim), the latter who has, shall we say, a very
strong affinity with cats. This
trio takes it upon themselves to track down the monsters behind bringing
Nimue back to life, but when she's successfully reassembled Hellboy and
company fully begin to realize the severity of their mission.
start with some positives. David
Harbour is a fly-in-under-the-radar actor I've admired for some time (his
work on Netflix's STRANGER THINGS has, no doubt, allowed for him to
generate some mainstream success that led to him getting silver screen
gigs). Perlman is, to be
fair, pretty irreplaceable as Hellboy, but Harbour manages to infuse his
own brand of clumsy charm and brooding intensity in the character, which
is a welcome relief. He's not
outright trying to mimic what Perlman did a decade ago, but instead tries
to make this outlandishly macabre character uniquely his own...at least as
much as he can, seeing as he's caked under pounds of makeup that's similar
to what his predecessor, no doubt, had to endure.
Even when the screenplay utterly fails Harbour and gives him some
awfully cringe worthy one liners (a final one near the end as he tosses a
head into hell's fires comes to mind), he imbues his role with such a
brutish and knuckleheaded charisma that he makes cookie cutter dialogue
the screenplay of HELLBOY is kind of a nightmarish mess.
This is not really an origin film, which is odd, and it especially
requires one to be familiar with Hellboy mythology going in (virginal
viewers to both the comic books and past films may be confused as the
story here progresses). There's
something good to be said about planting viewers right in the middle of
the action and never looking back, but HELLBOY has an awful lot of
convoluted exposition to wade through, not only with its red skinned
anti-hero, but with his father, the bureau he works for, his new
companions, and Minue's centuries long quest to achieve ultimate
comeuppance on mankind. There's
also many, many flashbacks and flashforwards added to the barrage
of characters thrown at us, almost to the point of requiring some sort of
road map to make sense of it all. Plot
structure is indeed a massive problem here, which is not assisted by
various characters throughout explaining everyone and everything
film's R rated material is also problematic, not because I'm a prude at
all (I usually loathe it when films that should have been R-rated receive
a neutered PG-13 rating). No,
what's so distracting about HELLBOY is just how aggressive it is when it
comes to characters being potty mouthed and unleashing frenetic and
endless gore on screen. Yes,
Hellboy's comic book world is indeed not a warm and inviting one and it
certainly seems fitting to give its film adaptation some edge, but the
writers of HELLBOY confuse an unrelenting onslaught of naughty F-bomb
riddled language and extreme blood spewing as being cutting edge.
This makes the film more exhausting and numbing than entertaining.
The middling to atrocious CGI on display here as well does the film
no favors in this regard either, and the oftentimes laughable results
can't seem to keep up with the film's insistence to unleash massive
direction by Neil Marshall (a good filmmaker behind THE DESCENT and the
very underrated CENTURION) is a mixed
bagged, mostly because he hyperactively peppers his HELLBOY with all out
chaos instead of the sophisticated and invitingly strange visual aesthetic
that made del Toro's films so beguiling and rich to look at.
The new HELLBOY comes off more as a ghastly rock video extended to
two hours, which features multiple scenes of grim action awkwardly and
haphazardly edited together with tiresomely shoehorned in heavy metal
tunes senselessly blaring on the soundtrack.
Combined with the aforementioned computer generated monster mashing
and rampantly phony looking mayhem and what we're essentially left with
her is a HELLBOY film that's a far cry from the bravura sense of
meticulously rendered world building of del Toro's iterations.
Everything here just seems...thrown up on screen.
makes a couple of scenes work, like an early standout moment involving
Hellboy battling it out versus multiple and vastly larger giants that
displays some legitimate creativity (regrettably, there are no scenes
later that can top it, leaving the film feeling like it climaxes early). I've
read that this HELLBOY had a rather dreadful production history spawned
out of creative differences, which painfully shows in the final product. I
guess this builds to me asking a simple question in closing: Why bother
rebooting this series that had an established cult audience and a more
than capable director in charge the first go around and replace it with
something that's feels like a hatchet job of too many cooks being in the
same kitchen? The extreme
performance goodwill of David Harbour aside (who's the only thing that
makes the film engagingly tolerable), the new retooled HELLBOY is a
squandered and missed opportunity to pointlessly inject new life in a
franchise that probably didn't need the injection in the first place. Equal
parts soulless, desperate, and clumsy, this reboot is - pardon the pun - a
piece of hellishly hot garbage.