Back before he was an Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro cut his teeth on unique and inspired projects that explored the strange and odd aspects of fantasy. He even dabbled in comic book movies like “Blade II” and, of course, the “Hellboy” franchise that ended in 2008 after only two films despite being celebrated adaptations of the Dark Horse Comics property. For years fans begged for a third and final film to complete the planned trilogy, but nothing ever transpired and, eventually, a reboot was announced hoping to please the fanbase while also charting a new path for Hellboy on the big screen. So, eleven years after “Hellboy: The Golden Army” we now have a new “Hellboy” film without del Toro or Ron Pearlman or pretty much anything we loved from the original movies. But that doesn’t mean it was destined to be a bad film. As a fan of the character, I was actually looking forward to a new take on the story. While reboots can be annoying not every new take on a previous property is destined to fail. So I was cautiously optimistic, especially when it was revealed the film would focus on some of the apocalyptic elements that were planned for del Toro’s third “Hellboy” film. So, is this reboot a worthy successor to del Toro’s masterful works or is it just a solemn reminder of what we could have and should have gotten years ago? Let’s find out. This is my review of 2019’s “Hellboy”.
“Hellboy” stars David Harbour as the titular Cambion hero who works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) defending the world from paranormal entities and threats. Nearly immortal and driven by sarcasm and an identity crisis, Hellboy comes across a prophecy telling of the upcoming end of days. An old enemy of Hellboy’s arrives and begins the process of reviving a dangerous witch named Nimue (Milla Jovovich) who threatens to bring destruction to the world through disease and uniting the hidden and abused factions of fantastical creatures. Hellboy’s father and B.P.R.D. founder Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) assigns Hellboy to stop the witch uniting him with medium Alice (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) a soldier with a hidden power of his own. As Hellboy and his team work to track down Nimue they discover details about Hellboy’s birth and a forgotten connection between Nimue, Hellboy, and the legendary King Arthur. As the truth unravels Hellboy learns of his destiny to bring about the end of the world, a fate he may be unable to avoid if he wants to put an end to Nimue’s terror.
Alright so as I said I wanted to give “Hellboy” a chance because I loved the del Toro movies, which served as an introduction to the character for me in the 2000s, and I’ve grown to appreciate his legacy as a comic book icon. But God is this movie awful. Even going in willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and understand that it could never live up to the eccentric vision of del Toro the “Hellboy” reboot left me longing for that third cinematic installment to the original franchise that we never got. Now, let me take it back a minute. There are some aspects of the film I did enjoy. First off despite the script and screenplay doing them no favors I actually enjoyed many of the performances and characters in this film. David Harbour is not a bad Hellboy even if he in no way lives up to Ron Pearlman’s fun interpretation of the character. Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim bring charm to their roles as Hellboy’s partners Alice and Ben Daimio and even Mila Jovovich isn’t a bad villainess. They all do what they can with what they’re given and, in that context, they do enough for me to at least admit I enjoyed their banter and give them credit for having some fun on the project
But, no matter how charming any of them are they still pale in comparison to the crew from the first two “Hellboy” films. I was thinking of doing a versus battle after seeing this movie to test which “Hellboy” film is better, but I won’t bother. It’s easy. Del Toro wins and that’s because del Toro’s “Hellboy” movies brought the full package starting with the characters, direction and actors. With this reboot, there’s barely any life in the script. Like I said the actors do what they can with what their given, the problem is they’re given so little. The script is really bland and actually feels underwritten despite having the R-rating to work with to try and delve deeper into the vulgarity of its source material. Every joke, one-liner, and even F-bomb feels forced, cliché, and unnatural even when they actually land. Even when the film tries to subvert the family-friendly expectations of previous comic book movies it feels forced, like a pandering mess that threw a few swears in just so the audience could say “oh boy this ain’t your mamma’s comic book movie any more kids we got a bunch of badasses over here”. I compare it negatively to movies like “Deadpool” and “Logan”. These films also pandered to the fans by adding an undue amount of swears and foul language but the scripts were better written to incorporate the swearing more effectively and the dialogue blended with the emotion and the action of the scenes. With “Hellboy” it feels like pandering and it is very clearly simple fan service above all else and the performances and screenplay suffer as a result.
It’s not just the direction and writing that fails though it’s also the lack of imagination and creativity. Now I’ll admit, as everyone should, that this movie had a tough act to follow with the odd visual style and imagination of del Toro bringing such strange creatures and odd set pieces to life in the first two movies. Even if you set aside the first two films though, this new “Hellboy” film on its own feels completely phoned in on a story and visual level. There’s little to nothing in this film you haven’t seen before and I guarantee you’ve seen it done much better. Gratuitous and unconvincing CGI villains, a dark and lifeless color pallet, and even a connection to King Arthur!
Let me rant on that for a moment. I know King Arthur is a part of the “Hellboy” mythos, but did we REALLY need another King Arthur tie-in on the big screen? We’ve seen that story overdone over the past few years with little fan reaction. This to me is a clear example of the lack of imagination worked into this movie. If a story element doesn’t work, even from the comics, you change it and here it should have been very clear after the failures of such projects as “Legend of the Sword” and “Transformers: The Last Knight” that the King Arthur element was destined to be a dated concept in “Hellboy”. But there was no effort to change it or even utilize the Arthur legend in any memorable way. If the story elements are tired you can change them or at least alter them in a way to make things feel more imaginative. Once Excalibur became a thing that is pretty much when I put my hands up and said, “forget it, I’m just going to stop caring for the rest of the movie because clearly this film has nothing new to say”. Even if it is accurate to the source material it doesn’t make it any less derivative and no amount of dedication to the comics is going to make fans overlook a bland concept that noone wants to see on the big screen right now. Looking at the film as a whole though “Hellboy” is filled with typical story beats that waste the potential of the character and the world he inhabits. There’s so little effective worldbuilding and so many unbearable clichés that it actually amazed me how bland and unimaginative this film looked from start to finish. HOWEVER, I will give it credit for the makeup and design of Hellboy himself which is on par if not maybe even better than the design incorporated into Ron Pearlman’s take on the character.
Now I know I’m being brutal with this movie, and it deserves it, but there is at least one story concept that I thought was a nice touch that was also explored in the original “Hellboy” movies and that’s Hellboy’s personal journey. A lot of this film is driven by Hellboy trying to understand who he is, where he came from and what he is meant to do. When he discovers his origin and his destiny to bring about the apocalypse it results in him becoming a conflicted hero unsure of how he should proceed. It even plays into his conflict with Nimue leaving him with a choice to allow her to destroy the world or risk becoming the destroyer of Earth in order to defeat her, leaving Hellboy with a seemingly no-win situation and a conflict worthy of a hero’s journey. Sadly, this rather intriguing concept is handled very poorly as “Hellboy” tries to fit in so many story threads and rush its way, in two hours no less, to a conclusion that we’re not given nearly enough time to invest in Hellboy’s personal conflict. David Harbour does a fine job at least trying to develop the inner torture Hellboy experiences. Remember the acting is one of the few good things about this film. Sadly it’s all for not as poor pacing and an unfocused narrative don’t really allow his performance to shine as much as it could and probably would have with more conviction to the personal journey rather than the action and R-rated mayhem. And I think that’s the biggest fatal flaw of this film is that there are the workings of some great ideas and concepts, but it’s so poorly written and preoccupied with getting from point A to point B and satisfying the R-rated cravings of the fan base than it never takes time to breathe or develop anything properly. What could have and should have been a deep exploration of the humanity of a creature fighting against his destructive destiny for the sake of the greater good instead becomes a poorly paced, unfocused, derivative mess of a comic book film that feels too afraid to take any chances to even try to offer something new, unique or memorable.
This is one of those reviews where I know I’m going to sound mean spirited and nasty, but when a movie is great I gush over it unapologetically when it meets or exceeds expectations. When a movie can’t even meet the most basic expectations however it deserves to be criticized harshly. As much as I wanted to like this movie the “Hellboy” reboot is a bad film. It’s not even good bad, you know that kind of bad where you can at least find something amusing in its terribleness. No, “Hellboy” is simply boring, unimaginative, and does little to nothing to justify rebooting the franchise as it proves even more why del Toro’s vision was so suitable for the character and his world. While I enjoyed the performances and the makeup job used to bring Hellboy to life there’s really nothing else in this movie that makes it worth recommending. The actors are not the reason for this movie’s failure. It’s the lack of inspiration, the poorly constructed story, the lack of sincerity and conviction to the more human elements of the screenplay, the poor special effects, and the derivative and bland plot elements that make it such a hard sell. Even despite a few select elements that present a glimmer of potential the “Hellboy” reboot is just bad. Even if you walk in without the bias of enjoying the del Toro originals this new take on the character offers little in the way of fun storytelling or creativity and if you did enjoy del Toro’s originals this new take will only leave you even more devastated that this is what we got instead of the proper conclusion to a film series that was perfectly fine as it was over ten years ago.