Director: Neil Marshall | Runtime: 2h | Adventure, Action, Fantasy
The demon Hellboy (David Harbour) must battle a Blood Queen, by the name of Nimue (Milla Jovovich) when she is awaken after years of being locked away. While battling the Queen, Hellboy must deal with his own impact on the world as a child of Hell.
We were introduced to the first cinematic version of Hellboy in 2004 from the wonderful mind of Guillermo Del Toro, which was followed by an equally imaginative sequel just 4 years later in 2008. With that in mind, it seems like a strange decision to reboot this franchise just 11 years later. In retrospect a lot of the charm that comes from the originals is through the lens of Del Toro and a nostalgic frame of mind, but there is absolutely no doubt that the newest version of the hell-spawn anti-hero falls flat in every way.
Before we get into just what’s wrong with this film, it’s important to appreciate how well David Harbour does with Hellboy, through all the bad he still manages to be a shining light, trying his very best with the one-liners and trying to command his performance as well as Perlman did back in 2004. But Harbour really feels like the captain of a sinking ship, proudly standing tall as everything around him drowns ungracefully and miserably. Even from the start we are subjected to a rushed backstory of our villain, accompanied by expositional narration by Ian McShane, that’s trying to build an element of intrigue and bravado to the film’s character, but all of it is about as intriguing as a bedtime story. Sadly for Hellboy, this is a reoccurring theme, showing potential but sadly drowning in it’s own promise and making you dream of a film that could of been.
The unique selling point of a character like Hellboy is that, despite being a demon himself, his less than enthusiastic persona stems from being raised as human, and while the film has no problem building it’s central character this way, where the film falls short is in the world around him. There’s witches, vampires, paranormals and even giants (a scene that actually is quite a lot of fun), but mashing these with a contemporary earth makes the tonal shifts insurmountable. Add the less than built sidekicks around him, like Sasha Lane’s psychic Alice or Daniel Dae Kim’s Daimio, it leaves Hellboy caught between two fictions, rather one unique mesh of opposing worlds.
Although it’s easy to say the CGI is god awful, it has to appreciated that with what we see from other Marvel films, and the fact it didn’t even have a third of the budget of those, it was never going to be perfect. But with those kind of drawbacks it seems more appropriate to put more faith in the story, just like Deadpool (2016) did with unbelievable success, and how you use the budget to expert effect. But sadly, the film strives for volume of bodies and blood, and while over-kill can work, it really feels overdone in comparison to what the rest of the film is offering. The last scene alone has decapitation and skinning, something that despite everything we see prior feels rather overdone.
Sadly for Hellboy, other than a worthy lead performance and the occasional fun, it’s simple dark comedy approach turns into an uncomfortable combination of cheap action, static dialogue and uninteresting characters. If you questioned why this character even needed a reboot in the first place, the stale taste left in your mouth will unquestionably put you off Hellboy for a very long time to come.