Even if one was able to cast aside in their mind the Guillermo del Toro-helmed Hellboy (2004) and its sequel The Golden Army (2008), Neil Marshall’s excessive 2019 take would still be considered a trash fire of epic proportions. Serving as a reboot of the cult Dark Horse Comics character rather than a continuation, Marshall’s hot mess of a movie touches a similar base as to what del Toro explored before disregarding it entirely for CG-heavy violence and crash-landing “jokes” that play into the film’s teen mentality (even though the much deserved R18+ classification secures that they won’t be seeing this any time soon).
With its unconvincing video game-lite special effects, excessive violence (the film was presented to the Classification board in a bid to demote its R rating), and prime Milla Jovovich casting, it’s easy to accuse Hellboy of feeling like a dated product. And though the opening moments – complete with tongue-in-cheek narration from Ian McShane (playing Hellboy’s “father”) and the story inclusion of King Arthur and Merlin (yep, all that’s left to add in is the kitchen sink) – allude to a feature that will embrace its cheese factor with a knowing wink, the film quickly disintegrates under a nonsensical narrative, muddled editing, and some truly taxing acting; Sasha Lane (so alluring in American Honey) delivers one of the years worst performances as a supposedly witty witch of sorts whose assistance to Hellboy results in little more than a punch and a one-liner.
Speaking of Hellboy himself, David Harbour (TV’s Stranger Things) is really the only saving grace the film has. A likeable character actor, Harbour throws himself wholeheartedly into the role, his towering presence and overly-muscular physique perfectly tailored to the character. But as much as he tries he still proves unable to save the film from buckling under its own ridiculousness; the script’s proclamation for Hellboy to utter the phrase “Let’s eat some barbecue” as he attacks a pig monster just one of the many, many examples of Andrew Cosby’s screenplay failing to land in spite of its genre trappings.
As for why exactly Hellboy is called upon, well, it’s your standard mystical threat, this time in the form of Nimue (Jovovich, hamming it up like she’s starving), a Blood Queen whose risen from the depths – or, more correctly, been pieced back together following her body being chopped up and her limbs sent to the edges of Europe – in an attempt to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. Instead of snapping her fingers in a more dramatic manner, ala Thanos in The Avengers, Nimue sets out on a path of destruction via her army of demons (their brief ambush on the Earth’s surface resulting in a slew of gory moments), all the while hoping she can convince Hellboy to give in to his dark side (cause, you know, he’s from hell) and rule side by side.
Whilst there’s certainly no harm in retreading the expected, or embracing a higher rating for that matter (Deadpool, anyone?), this particular Hellboy is so void of a personality that it simply fails on the most basic level of being fun. And in creating something so haphazardly that can’t help but be compared to del Toro’s infintely superior films, one has to wonder why did they even bother?
Having proven apt at helming horror with such taut outings as Dog Soldiers and The Descent, as well as some of the finer episodes of TV’s Game of Thrones, the decision to secure Marshall as a director seemed safe, and given how happy he is when he’s elbow-deep in blood and gore, this brutal take on the material should’ve been a cake-walk. Honestly, there’s just so much wrong with this film that it’s easier to pinpoint the minor wins it manages over its countless losses; aside from Harbour’s perseverance, scenes involving Baba Yaga, an ancient one-eyed witch whose contorting body brings to mind the nightmarish spider-walk from The Exorcist, hint at the thematically repulsive horror film that should’ve been embraced.
Undeserving of both your hard-earned money and your valuable time, Hellboy is a bloody misfire that aims for the lowest denominator – the hollow, easily pleased teen market – but drenches it so graphically in barbarity that, ironically, the core audience won’t be able to even entertain the notion of suffering through it. Absolute hell, boy!
Based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, Hellboy, caught between the worlds of the supernatural and human, battles an ancient sorceress bent on revenge. Starring David Harbour, Milla Jovovich and Ian McShane.
Hellboy (R18+) is screening in Australian theatres from April 11th 2019.