I watched both of the incredibly-gifted Guillermo del Toro Hellboy films (2004 and 2008) when they were released and didn’t like either. They had their moments, but it was clear that directing action wasn’t del Toro’s strongest suit. Moreover, he really struggled with his actors in CGI sequences. The performers would often not react proportionally to many of the fantastical elements added in post-production.
That’s why it is incredible that this Hellboy reboot, starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour (Hellboy/Anung Un Rama), and directed by the talented horror director Neil Marshall, has all of the same problems as the previous films, except significantly worse. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the narrative, characterisation and gorgeous creative visuals of del Toro to compensate.
To start with, there’s the narrative. Hellboy fans will be pleased to know that Andrew Cosby’s screenplay is more faithful to the Dark Horse comics, lifting many of the stories from the Hellboy pages. But if you’ve read comics under the Dark Horse umbrella, you’ll realise this isn’t entirely a good thing. For every Sin City by Frank Miller, they have five gratuitous comics that are visually stunning but not the greatest tales.
The Hellboy reboot has all of the same problems as the previous films, except significantly worse
I recognise many of the plots in this film from the comics, but they feel stitched together haphazardly. The film begins in the age of King Arthur with the story of Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), a medieval British sorceress who wants to destroy the world. She is killed by King Arthur and Merlin, her body parts spread across Europe to prevent a resurrection. In the present day, Gruagach, an enemy of Hellboy, seeks revenge. Here, a Russian witch advises the beast to resurrect the ancient sorceress.
While Hellboy goes on several adventures across America working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), Gruagach goes about its mission. Eventually, Nimue is resurrected and all hell breaks loose.
In del Toro’s smarter take of the Hellboy comics, the BPRD was more like a supernatural FBI. Its function was to investigate as much as anything. Here, the BPRD is more like a SWAT team with supernatural beings, making it less interesting. Then, there is Hellboy’s adoptive father and the father of the organisation, Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Although this father-son relationship is at the heart of the film, it is dull to watch because they have almost no chemistry. Adding to the snooze-fest is the fact that neither is characterised interestingly, leaving little for the actors to work with, and it shows.
Hellboy fans will be pleased to know that Andrew Cosby’s screenplay is more faithful to the Dark Horse comics, lifting many of the stories from the Hellboy pages.
Then, there is the exposition. It’s funny for an R-rated comic book film based on an obscure comic to treat its audience like idiots, when they’re likely to be aficionados, but that’s what Hellboy does. Some of the action is fine, but most is quite terrible. To start with, the CGI starts okay but slowly and steadily gets worse, as if the studio was waiting for a loan from the IMF and had lost the backing of a rich Middle Eastern prince. Then, there is the same effect as the original films, where the actors clearly didn’t know what was going to be added in post-production. In the end, they look as underwhelmed by the events of the film as we, the audience, are.
Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language
Published in Dawn, ICON, April 21st, 2019