Hellboy (2019): Witches And Giants and Cat People, Oh! My...
Following the success of Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy entries, the titular character returns, only this time, he’s helmed by The Descent director Neil Marshall. A clunky and cobbled reboot, Hellboy intentionally eschews the sophistication and pathos of del Toro’s films, replacing them with mindless buckets of blood and viscera. It definitely rings hollow (especially when compared to del Toro’s work), but it’s a fun no-brains-required, knock around, and the kind of gory gross-out blockbuster you don’t generally see circulating in the mainstream.
From the pages of Mike Mignola's seminal work, this action packed story sees the legendary half-demon superhero (David Harbour) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.
2019’s Hellboy faces off against a tough crowd. Fans of Mignola's character have long been calling for a third del Toro installment, and naturally, when the studio responds with a version of the character that, for all intents and purposes, is basically the antithesis of everything del Toro worked to create, the fans are not gonna be happy. Obviously, when compared to the caliber of del Toro’s films, this 2019 attempt to kickstart another Hellboy franchise will always be inferior; however, to some degree, it’s being unfairly gutted.
I’m not going to advocate that this version of Hellboy is a good film — in fact, I think it’s an objectively bad film — but I do appreciate that it sought out to do something completely different, even if it falls on its face most of the time. Not being a diehard fan of the comics or character — my appreciation mostly starts and stops with del Toro’s films — I was not bothered by its nearly 180 degree alteration to the character, though it will be a definite pain point for many. While I think it’s fair to be upset when a majority of fans ask for one thing and the studio doesn’t listen (for whatever reason), I don’t think it’s valid criticism when you dislike a film because it’s not what you wanted. That said, if you’re not a fan of Marshall’s Hellboy, there’s more than unfulfilled demand that you can cite as a negative quality.
I would argue that about 80% of Hellboy’s issues stem from Andrew Cosby’s screenplay. Cosby worked as producer on 2 Guns and is co-creator of SyFy Channel’s Eureka, but Hellboy marks his first effort as a screenwriter, and it certainly shows. A whole article could be devoted to dissecting the script’s many issues, but its biggest faults by far are trying to do too much and not setting up characters or their connections in a clear or coherent way. Unlike del Toro’s films, which first focus on setting up and defining the character before delving too much into the comic book’s mythological playground of a world, Cosby drops us right into the story going a 100 miles per hour. We are fully exposed to this very large mythological and supernatural world, and the rules for it are never truly defined. We are subject to everything imaginable: zombies, witches, giants, changelings, cat people, demons, spirits, disgustingly disfigured and contorted sorceresses, and more.
Del Toro didn’t start to open up the world until the second film, and a large part of his success stems from how he grounds the supernatural aspects by focusing on the character, with heavy emphasis on what makes them human. With Cosby’s script, there’s nothing that grounds it, and so it remains untethered and unhinged for its entire two-hour runtime (which is itself about 30 minutes too long and another issue).
Cosby also intentionally withholds information on Hellboy, his origin and backstory, which delay any potential emotional investment. In a story like this, we really need to be able to emotionally connect with the character to properly give a shit about their journey, and so Cosby’s soft-boiled script subjects the viewer to a hollow journey of self-discovery that lacks any incline of resonation. Making matters worse, the characters we collide with are introduced as if we’re already supposed to know who they are and how they’re connected to Hellboy, making an already jumbled narrative that much more convoluted.
For what it’s worth, Marshell does the best he can with the source material; it’s very competently shot and stitched together. Some of the CGI elements seem out of an earlier era and detract from the enjoyment factor, but that’s assuaged by its willingness to go over the top with gore — at least, they were for me anyways. Despite having to deliver some very cringey one-liners, I am all about David Harbour’s Hellboy. He lacks the pathos of Perlman’s version, but he does a great job with what he was given. One thing is for sure, this is not as bad as last year’s The Predator. It’s not going to fill you up, but it will douse you with blood (if you’re into that).
Recommendation: Wait for VOD or streaming. If you want a del Toro film, you’ll only be disappointed, but if you’re a gorehound, this will satisfy your bloodlust completely. If films like Spawn, Ghost Rider, and Constantine are your bag, you might like what you get here.
Rating: 1.5 demons wreaking havoc outta 5.
What do you think? Is the hate for this reboot justified? Which Hellboy do you prefer? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!