Before the world goes crazy for Avengers: Endgame, we have yet another superhero film available to consume. That film is Hellboy, a reboot of the 2004 film and its sequel, both directed by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro. With Hellboy being a non-Marvel, non-DC entity the character represents an interesting superhero alternative since Hellboy is a demon who is naturally evil. After being summoned by Nazi forces, he was found by Allied troops and adopted by Professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm, who taught Hellboy to use his abilities to fight evil instead. Del Toro’s fascination and love for the character afforded Hellboy much success, all while immortalizing Ron Perlman as the man born to play him.
The last appearance of Hellboy was in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which wowed audiences with dazzling visuals juxtaposed with the smart aleck musings from its hero. With del Toro moving on and Perlman retiring from the character, a reboot was suggested (since Hollywood wants to squeeze as much money as possible). This version of Hellboy, directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soliders) and starring David Harbour (Stranger Things), is unnecessary. Comparing Mashall’s vision with del Toro’s will only make the 2019 version look worse, so one must proceed with caution since this is simply a bad movie.
From a technical perspective, Hellboy looks cheap. Operating on a rumored budget of $50 million, the CGI is amateur and incomplete. Many scenes include ghouls and demons and all of them move begrudgingly as if the computer running them was about to crash. That choppiness gives the CGI characters a stop-motion look that isn’t at all appealing. It’s bad enough to take viewers out of the film.
The script is rough. Written by Andrew Cosby, the save the world storyline is fine, albeit trite. But Cosby provided terrible dialogue full of unfunny quips and one-liners. Hellboy, despite his supernatural origin, is essentially a blue-collar everyman. He jokes with the best of them but they don’t land in as much as they fall off a cliff. That spells certain doom as part of Hellboy’s appeal is his ability to make light of catastrophic situations. In effect, David Harbour’s job is more difficult. It’s already bad enough he has to fill Perlman’s massive shoes, but Cosby’s words make the uphill climb even steeper. Harbour did well considering, but no one will call his performance memorable since he’s not talented enough to elevate bad writing.
With the script in mind, supporting characters suffer, too. Hellboy’s chief adversary is Nimue, known as the Blood Queen. Played by Milla Jovovich, Nimue’s motivation is unclear, although she's seeking revenge because she was killed ages ago. She comes back to take over the world but first has to "reassemble" herself. Nimue was dismembered after being defeated by King Arthur, then her body parts were hidden all over England so that she couldn’t come back to terrorize again. Not only does she return, Nimue knows of Hellboy’s potential and wants him to join her. That’s not a bad twist, but it arrived on the heels of a story arc that’s lazy and unimaginative. Nimue might as well have said, “Join me,” using her best Darth Vader impression (it would've been the only funny moment in an unfunny movie).
Hellboy has help but they’re boring tropes. Besides Broom (Ian McShane), Sasha Lane plays Alice Monaghan and Daniel Dae Kim is Major Ben Daimio. Alice has magic powers, while Ben is the angry cop who doesn’t like Hellboy (and ghouls in general). Think of Will Smith in Bright and you have Ben; while Alice is Maleficent without the cool costume. They’re one-dimensional so you know what they bring to the table. Old tropes are fine, just not when it’s provided in a predictable fashion.
One more thing - there is too much violence. Marshall and Cosby must’ve known they had little to work with, so they compensated with lots of blood. Nimue’s army went all out in killing innocent bystanders, often dismembering and eating them. It was bothersome, although I tuned out early. I simply was bored and didn’t care enough.
Is there anything to like? Sure, David Harbour is fine and I can support any performance from Daniel Dae Kim. I like the father-son relationship between Broom and Hellboy; it may be the only thing that’s earnest. But this reboot is soulless.
I’ve been led to believe Marshall’s vision is more in line with the comic, and if so then the comic must suck. That’s a mean assumption but whatever appeal the comic has didn’t show up onscreen. That’s sad because Hellboy is a special character who deserves better film treatment.
2 stars out of 5