Review: Hellboy (2019)

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Wow, this was a train wreck.

A special supernatural investigations and operations unit heed the return of The Blood Queen, a sorceress from the times of King Arthur, bringing the end of the world with her. The only one who can possibly stop her, the unit’s demonic investigator simply named Hellboy.

Straight off the bat, a disclaimer: only a small amount of the ire that comes from watching this film is due to the studio having creative differences with Guillermo Del Toro, and so the third part of his Hellboy adaptation never happened. Only a small amount of the ire is because this isn’t Del Toro’s project. On a personal note, I didn’t particularly like the first Hellboy movie (in 2004), it was only when Hellboy 2: The Golden Army rolled around, that I fully appreciated a visionary director making a blockbuster.

This film is a mess. Wow is it a mess.

As a reboot of the franchise, our titular character is reinstalled in the public domain with actor David Harbour (Stranger Things) and is given a new start on the big screen. In fairness, Harbour is good in the role, he has a larger-than-life persona in Hellboy and it isn’t a far cry from what some people would call the definitive Ron Perlman version. But unfortunately he has the worst material to work with.
Hellboy 2019 is a meandering, noisy mess. Too afraid to dial itself back and breathe for longer than 2 minutes, this rollercoaster is similar to watching a close up of a jackhammer burst through layers of concrete. Audiences are treated by the most rushed prologue ever put to film: where we must accept that King Arthur and Merlin had a traitorous witch betray her coven so they could defeat an evil sorceress with the only weapon that could, Excalibur, after which her body was cut into pieces, sealed in magic boxes and her blood was stored within an ancient oak tree. All of this happens within less than five minutes.
We then get the beginning of the film, and it begins as it means to continue. Hellboy getting beaten up by a luchador wrestler, who is apparently a friend of his, who turns out to be a vampire, so Hellboy kills him and is bummed out about it. In true The Predator 2018 fashion, this doesn’t mean anything to the plot. We have no understanding of who just died or why we should feel for Hellboy, who we should remember, is a giant red demon of dubious moral compass.

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Far from being any sort of investigator, the film carts Hellboy from one location to another so he can be beaten up. One minute we are fighting luchador vampires, the next we have a seer giving us Hellboy’s backstory when the plot was actually about him going to fight some giants for some British guys. It is utterly divergent; the plot never settles on one train of thought, it just ploughs through with whatever stream of consciousness the screenwriter Andrew Cosby had at the time.
And it keeps going, unrelentingly. It introduces characters like we’ve known them for years, then immediately we have windows exploding and the characters being whisked into another location. It feels very much like a string of skits: micro ideas that involve Hellboy, but have nothing to do with each other. Hellboy visits Baba Yaga. Hellboy deals with a demon possessed baby. Hellboy’s origin story. King Arthur. An apocalyptic plague. Hellboy fights giants. Hellboy fights stuck-up British guys. Milla Jovovich is still hot.

This film desperately needed to be dialled back. If you want to reboot a franchise, you need to sell the character, you need to place him in people’s minds. Don’t throw in hill giants in the English countryside if it doesn’t matter, especially after opening the film with a vampire wrestler who also didn’t matter. Montage that stuff. Make a film about Hellboy and his struggle between being a monster and a human, with a seductress trying to tempt him away from humanity. Boom. That’s your story.
Why was there a pig man? Why were there so many flashbacks?

If you are going to remake something, have a reason. The only thing this film has going for it is the gore. This is an insanely gory film; monsters and people regularly get their heads cleaved open. People get torn in half, eyes are gouged out more often than you’d think possible for one movie. There are some good monster designs around, especially Baba Gaga, but when they have no weight or purpose to them (and you just need to Google “Hellboy Angel of Death” to see how a real monster movie director, Del Toro, does it) they feel wasted. Especially when Hellboy himself seems to be invulnerable from the opening twenty minutes, none of the monsters feel threatening. Not to mention the CG effects are really poor, especially during Hellboy’s fight with the giants.

Sadly, initial opinions from audiences were accurate for Hellboy 2019. It even held back one of the best principle characters for an end credit sting, promising a sequel. This is not getting a sequel.

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Additional Marshmallows: Just watch the trailer; it is about as well edited. Save your money.

 

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