Released: April 2019
Director: Neil Marshall
Budget: $50 million
Stars: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, and Daniel Dae Kim
Hellboy (Harbour), a demonic paranormal investigator for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (B.P.R.D.), is the only thing standing between the ancient sorceress, Nimue (Jovovich), being resurrected and leading the forces of darkness into all-out conquest over the human world.
Created in 1993 by noted writer/artist Mike Mignola, Hellboy is quite a unique and intriguing comic book character; a demon entity with a giant stone hand, filed-down horns, and a big-ass hand cannon, he is noted as being the world’s greatest paranormal detective and investigates, and fights against, the forces of evil. Of course, we’ve seen the character adapted by Guillermo del Toro and portrayed to fantastic effect by Ron Perlman back in 2004; although we got a sequel in 2008, talks on a third instalment stalled and, eventually, died out, leading to this grittier, bloodier reboot.
Hellboy is a chaotic, frenetic movie that blasts along at a mile a minute, rarely taking any time to catch its breath or take a moment to think about what is going on. While this does make for a loud (very loud; at times, the music drowned out the dialogue), action-packed slug-fest, it does make the movie far more exhausting than its 2004 counterpart. However, this version separates itself by being full of gore, violent action, and foul language, which definitely ups the movie’s fun factor.
The movie opens with some narration from Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (McShane), who quickly runs through the story of the Blood Queen Nimue while we see it happening onscreen; this is one of those cases where a a prologue exists simply to spell out the plot for the audience as, later in the film, Hellboy obviously has to be told the same story so he knows what’s going on and I end up just asking why we couldn’t skip the opening narrative and just splice that footage in to the later exposition.
After that, we jump-cut to Tijuana, where Hellboy is unable to save a friend of his (a fellow B.P.R.D. agent) and, just as he’s trying to deal with the guilt of that, we jump-cut to Colorado, where Professor Bruttenholm sends Hellboy on an assignment to help out the Osiris Club with an outbreak of giants in England.
So then we jump-cut to England for an exciting action scene where Hellboy fights giants; it’s around here that the actual plot starts to come together as, at every turn, Hellboy is told rumours of an approaching evil, his role in the apocalypse, twists, turns, betrayals, and so many sudden location shifts as Hellboy prepares for the resurrection of the Blood Queen.
As perfect as Ron Perlman was as Hellboy, David Harbour is a fantastic replacement; gruff, sarcastic, and conveying a lot of conflicting emotions, he is less of a child-like goof but still portrays the character as enjoying his violent job and beating up bad guys. The make-up and effects on Hellboy are top notch, and clearly have had the most effort put into them; compared to Perlman, Harbour is bigger, more battle-hardened (scars pattern his face and body) but just as poor a shot and quick to enter a fight. I don’t really know the Hellboy comics very well at all but we still don’t see much evidence to support Hellboy’s status as the world’s greatest paranormal investigator; he’s more a hit-first-ask-questions-later kind of demon and, though there are some wrinkles in his portrayal, he’s pretty much the same character from del Toro’s films.
Supporting him are the always-great Ian McShane, who is a far more gruff and pragmatic version of Professor Broom, Alice Monaghan (Lane), a telepath of sorts who can talk to and summon spirits, and Ben Daimio (Kim), a UK-based B.P.R.D. agent who, despite hiding a big secret, hates all the world’s monsters and is prepared to eliminate Hellboy if he proves to be a threat. They’re okay; there’s far more friction between Broom and Hellboy given that Hellboy discovers his true origins for the first time in this movie; Alice is serviceable enough and helps to humanise Hellboy, while Daimio undergoes the most character development as he begrudgingly learns to tolerate Hellboy’s existence during the course of the movie.
Nimue is quite the antagonistic force; in addition to being effectively immortal, she can command the forces of darkness and bring about plagues through sheer force of will. She’s a constant shadow hanging over the film and actual shows up quite a bit, too; she’s also willing to concede her throne to Hellboy, given his destiny to be the destroyer of worlds. However, a lot of her threat and menace is diluted by Jovovich’s trademark wooden acting; as always, she is an emotional void, despite moments of emotion, and she just seems like a puppet dancing around onscreen.
Nimue’s desires are facilitated mainly through her right-hand…man…Gruagach (Stephen Graham and Douglas Tait), a half-man, half-pig who pretty much steals the show whenever he shows up thanks, in large part, not only to his gruff voice (which is full of personality) and his sympathetic motivations, but also due to him mostly being portrayal through practical effects. When he is onscreen with Nimue, she suddenly seems a lot more interesting and my only regret is that there isn’t more interaction between him and Hellboy as the film constantly throws other threats and obstacles in Hellboy’s path.
Hellboy also features a booming soundtrack, though it does drown a lot of the dialogue out, as I mentioned earlier; this is something to note as Hellboy is a gruff-spoken character, Harbour has a gruff voice, and the make-up is obviously difficult to act through so it can be he hard to hear Hellboy’s snappy dialogue when the soundtrack is in full force. The effects are good, for the most part; the creature effects are clearly inspired by del Toro and the practical effects all look great. Some of the CGI lets the film down though, particularly around Nimue, her powers, her minions, and when Daimio reveals his true nature. The shots of hell seen in the trailer are very well done, though, and Hellboy looks great, and it’s helped that the movie blasts along way too quickly for you to really take in how good, or bad, a lot of the effects can be.
The spoilers (highlight to read):
If you’ve seen the trailers, or Hellboy (del Toro, 2004) then you already know one of the film’s biggest spoilers, which is that Hellboy embraces his role as Anung Un Rama and, also, that he ultimately rejects his fate as the bringer of the apocalypse by breaking his horns. He is forced into doing this by the death of a loved one (this time it’s Broom) and talked out of it by being reminded of his humanity (also by Broom, as a spirit, in this film). It’s a bit too samey, unfortunately, as was the flashback to Hellboy’s origin, which differed only in that Broom was at Hellboy’s summoning in order to kill him and decided to raise him as a son and weapon against evil instead…which was somewhat implied in del Toro’s movie.
The trailers did do a decent job of hiding Daimio’s true nature, however; it was heavily implied that he was a werewolf of some kind and it turns out that he can turn into a beast that resembles a sabretooth tiger. This doesn’t fully happen until the film’s climax, however; probably because the effects are not very good at all and he’s not onscreen in this form for very long.
Hellboy is betrayed and stabbed in the back, literally, at almost every turn, adding to the film’s chaotic nature. Yet, amidst all of this, Hellboy presents the idea that Hellboy is half-human, half-demon and that his human lineage stretches all the way back to King Arthur. This means that Hellboy is the true ruler of England, for one thing, and (conveniently) the only one capable of wielding the legendary Excalibur (the one blade that can kill Nimue). I don’t know if this is a thing in the comics but it felt a bit contrived and convoluted for me; the entire movie is this mish-mash of exposition and senseless action and then, suddenly, Hellboy is destined to be the descendant of King Arthur while also being destined to bring about the apocalypse. O much prefer Hellboy being a down-to-Earth kinda guy who rejects his demonic heritage to do good out of his own volition and not because “fate” says he will.
Like any good comic book movie, Hellboy features a few post-credits scene; two set-up a potential sequel, especially with Baba Yaga (Emma Tate and Troy James) swearing revenge against Hellboy and Hellboy, Alice, and Daimio discovering Abe Sapien’s water tank; in another, Hellboy is randomly consoled by the ghost of the legendary Nazi killer Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church).
Hellboy is a bombastic mess of a movie, to be honest. It’s loud, jumps all over the place, and never stops to let you catch up. The movie is full of foul-language and gratuitous violence, which really adds to its chaotic nature; unlike del Toro’s movies, this Hellboy doesn’t hold back and goes balls-deep with the violent nature of Hellboy’s work and life. While you can argue that the violence and gore is simply there just to be there, it really makes the film’s over-the-top premise and action far more enjoyable and allows this film to distance itself from its predecessors.
I enjoy a mindless action movie as much as the next guy and am al for switching my brain off and watching some mindless violence, but Hellboy’s rapid editing and frantic pace soured me at the start. Similar to Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), Hellboy tries to cram way too much in at the start and then has multiple flashbacks to each character’s origin as they are introduced that interrupts the plot and makes things more convoluted than it needed to be; I think a cold-open and dialogue concerning Hellboy’s origin would have been enough.
However, there is something to like about Hellboy; the effects are good, Harbour is great as the titular character, and the action and violence are loud and fun. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem to be tracking well and doesn’t look like it’ll turn much of a profit, if any, so we may never get to see a sequel iron out some of the film’s issues but, to its credit, Hellboy goes for the jugular right from the start and doesn’t let go even after the credits have rolled.