Who doesn’t love Nazi-hunter Lobster Johnson?
1500 years ago, Vivian Nimue aka The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) conquered the British Isles with designs upon all the world… until King Arthur and his wizard Merlin defeated her. In modern times, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) is one of many organizations that safeguards the planet against such supernatural threats… occasionally employing them in their fight for humanity, like aptly named Hellboy (David Harbour) under the guidance of his adopted father Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Paired with psychic friend Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and all-business Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), a series of monster attacks points to The Blood Queen coming back to finish what she started… and Hellboy himself may unfortunately figure into her plans for domination.
Since the film bears the same name as its 2004 predecessor, it of course invites comparison. Director Guillermo del Toro made The Shape of Water and leans toward fantasy; director Neil Marshall made Dog Soldiers and leans toward horror. Whereas the 2004 Hellboy took its time, 2019 can’t wait to show you everything quickly and early. 2004 hinted at a bigger world; 2019 drowns you in it. 2004 was perfect in every way… except when it wasn’t, with fans and critics alike complaining about everything from Selma Blair being a poor actress to the character of John Myers being too lame to be allowed to live (and summarily dismissed from the sequel). But where does the 2019 reboot really fall within today’s high expectations and an MCU-ruled superhero box office?
Set to a hard rock soundtrack and embracing its R-rating, this reboot suffers from trying to be everything for everyone all at once. Overstuffed with enough plot and characters for two films or an entire trilogy, it still cribs in part on what we’ve already seen before. Visually, it focuses on spectacle — not necessarily a bad thing — with first-person POV no-cutaway combat action sequences ala Hardcore Henry, and there are many of them. The effect is very video game-like, which contributes to the poor CGI-effect complaint some viewers have mentioned, but it does put you in the action (where not everyone wants to be). Considering the reboot had a reportedly smaller actual budget than del Toro’s first Hellboy (that likely went further in 2004), the narrative on-screen works well enough to follow along with all the money-shots; this is far from any Uwe Boll also-ran. Many may see this as merely another overblown spectacle, but there’s enough that works (with maybe a longer special edition) that others will see it as the guilty pleasure it was intended to be.
Of the main principle characters, the performances worked but were arguably too brief; it really needed more. Harbour channels the best of Ron Perlman’s Hellboy portrayal while adding his own spin, but there’s not as much down time to see more characterization; since being tempted by Milla Jovovich’s Nimue is a bit of a plot point, Hellboy doesn’t have a Liz Sherman this time around to angst with. It was also a treat to see Jovovich playing the bad guy to a hero similar to her earlier roles: the monster choosing to be a protector. With Sasha Lane’s Alice and Daniel Dae Kim’s Daimio both stepping up, no one falls flat; this is even true of many of the supernatural characters such as Baba Yaga. Thomas Haden Church’s Lobster Johnson kind of already needs his own movie.
As for nitpicks, the makeup had some problems, like seeing the roots of Hellboy’s horn makeup shift in a way actual horns wouldn’t; why this wasn’t fixed in post-production is a mystery, but the release date was reportedly locked and time may have been a factor. Some of the monsters combined practical and CGI effects, but there wasn’t quite enough money to make it seamless and filmmakers were up against a time limit for a set release date. The realization of so many myths and legends were also joyous — padding for Hellboy’s world with little explanation other than they exist — but the amount of overstuffing crowded the running screen time and robbed viewers of time to fully enjoy the spectacle — or at least catch their breath. It’s very possible good character bits were cut to squeeze the money spent onto the screen, and that deserves to be seen eventually. Research into old legends for stories like these are also appreciated — including Excalibur being shown as a sixth-century Roman Gladius, for example; well done!
The reboot makes a strong case for more not always being more, but “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola reportedly didn’t enjoy his property languishing with merely two films, hence taking back the rights with the decision not to complete del Toro’s potential trilogy. As such, a clear effort was made to showcase all the things that Hellboy’s world could become as a franchise… and few can argue it succeeds in that at least.
This Hellboy is rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, and an unhealthy obsession with eyeballs throughout. Watch for the mid-credit fun and a post-credit tease!
Three skull recommendation out of four
Let’s take a few SPOILER WARNING moments for a few extra thoughts…
They say: “This Hellboy complains and whines too much! He attacks everything! Harbour’s performance is awful!”
But… that kind of *is* Hellboy: a blue-collar monster hunter who looks like (and gets treated like) a monster. The first big problem is comparing 2019 to the relatively tame (yeah, I said it) del Toro movies… which we we enjoyed because we GOT a Hellboy movie. You can’t be subtle when you can’t move your face; it’s like being a Muppet and having to exaggerate every movement to show “range.” Make no mistake: this is an ADHD Hellboy movie, and no potential tangent goes unexplored.
They say: “Painful exposition and poor performances.”
Lobster Johnson, for example, is canon — a throwback to self-important 40s radio show heroes and Nazi-hunters, bigger-than-life peprsonalities… like Hellboy could be but really isn’t. And a drunken Hellboy getting a peptalk from a fallen champion of legend? Lucky bastard. I’ll also add that this is the most screen-accurate Baba Yaga to date. Not only did her hut *not* look hokey, but it was actually spooky and cool… and Baba herself was perfectly repellent.
They say: “It was two boring hours long.”
The biggest crime the film commits is also an ADHD problem: lack of focus in trying to front-load excessive world building, with enough plot elements for three times as many films. Interestingly, Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” seems to get away with that weekly, however. Keep up!
They say: “A craptastic polluted soundtrack.”
When did classic rock become so despised? Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to Your Nightmare” on Pendle Hill? The “Smoke on the Water” trailer metal cover? A Spanish version of Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” over the lucha fight? Old guys still rule… and Hellboy is indeed an old guy, even if he doesn’t look it.
Just a few thoughts — and yeah, I watched this twice in XD and still enjoyed it… flaws and all.
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They say: “Harbour had no charisma in portraying Hellboy.”
Who needs charisma when you’re a half-demon? All kidding aside, ever notice IRL that really big guys tend to act like teddy bears around “normal” people, acting extra cuddly so regular folks don’t feel threatened or intimidated… or that these folks *think* they have to be extra subdued to be accepted? Perlman was fully subdued — adult version — and came off as relaxed and approachable aka cool; Harbour is playing the angst-ridden teen with greatness thrust upon him whether he wants it or not… so no, I don’t think he needed to be charismatic as much as he needed to be relatable, and that’s his arc. Alice, for example, has him under her thumb — little sister syndrome — so they’re cool together.
Hellboy is a big gun, an anti-hero, the Uber Marine trained to utterly destroy their foes and then expected to act gentlemanly when all the bad guys are dead. You know: the Punisher, or Marv from Sin City. Do those guys have to be charismatic and likable? Regardless, they get shit done.
Finally (for now), I’ll add this: it’s entirely possible that *I* can relate to this Hellboy, and maybe that says more about me than it does for this film. Your mileage may vary.
Nerdest has similar feelings about this to myself.
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Agreed: “Hellboy Failed Because It Was Too Faithful To The Comics”
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[…] audiences didn’t quite understand his Hellboy was more accurate to his comic origins than Guillermo del Toro’s films starring Ron Perlman, […]