HELLBOY, the latest film from director Neil Marshall (The Descent), is a reboot of the beloved graphic novels from Mike Mignola. In this iteration, we find Hellboy struggling to find his place in both the world of humans and that of the supernatural while facing an ancient sorceress who could bring about the apocalypse. The film stars David Harbour (Stranger Things), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil series), Ian McShane (John Wick), Sasha Lane (American Honey), Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-0 and Lost), and Stephen Graham (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales).
Hellboy is back and he’s on fire. From the pages of Mike Mignola’s seminal work, this action-packed story sees the legendary half-demon superhero (David Harbour) called to England to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a resurrected ancient sorceress thirsting to avenge a past betrayal. Suddenly caught in a clash between the supernatural and the human, Hellboy is now hell-bent on stopping Nimue without triggering the end of the world.
Oh my God was this movie wild. Going into this film I wasn’t sure what to expect having only ever seen Guillermo Del Toro’s iteration, having not had the chance to read the graphic novel, but nothing could have prepared me for the visual onslaught that I was about to experience. Being a fan of Neil Marshall’s work, especially that of The Descent, I was intrigued to see his interpretation of HELLBOY. I’ll be honest, what ends up unfolding is absolute madness and I’m not sure if that was intentional or if that’s how it plays out in the graphic novel, but oh boy, get ready. This film literally has every plot point imaginable along with copious amounts of gore and a bizarre mix of Van Helsing-era CGI and superb practical effects.
HELLBOY is a vast film, taking place everywhere from Tijuana to Colorado, to the main hub of all the activity, England. The opening of the film was arresting and caught my attention early on as it utilized a black and white palette until the introduction of Nimue, aka the Blood Queen, who is shown in a blood red cape facing off with King Arthur and Merlin. If you think this is the only time those two dudes are going to show up, you are very mistaken, but alas, they do what needs to be done and banish Nimue for all eternity, or at least that’s what they think. The film then takes us to present day where we find Hellboy on an assignment which, as these things do, unfortunately, goes awry, prompting him to return to Colorado where his father, Professor Broom (Ian McShane) is waiting for him at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. It’s here where Hellboy is given instructions to go to England to help a secret society, known as the Osiris Club, in killing a slew of giants terrorizing the land. At this point, the film kicks up a notch to about 72 and I begin to wonder if Marshall and Mignola decided to throw caution to the wind and see how many crazy antics they could get away with.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like what HELLBOY had to offer, I was just mostly left confused. There were definitely moments that shone through, especially in regards to the horror aspect. Case in point would be in the introduction of Baba Yaga (performed by both Troy James, who horror fans might remember as Pretzel Jack in Channel Zero’s “The Dream Door”, and Emma Tate), a monstrosity that eats children and slinks around in an insidious manner biding her time until she meets Hellboy once again. The practical effects used to conjure up her appearance, as well as the terrifying movements portrayed by James, chilled me to the bone. It’s a stark contrast when compared to the fairy being, Gruagach (played by Stephen Graham), which relied heavily on CGI – and not good CGI. Some may be able to look past the early 2000’s CGI but I can’t, it’s 2019, we deserve better, especially when it goes up against some rather stellar practical effects.
As for the story itself, there’s a lot to chew on. I enjoyed the tension between Hellboy and his father especially in regards to how Professor Broom (Ian McShane) and his contemporaries handle monsters. As Hellboy sees it, he’s one of those ‘monsters’ and struggles with the morality towards exterminating these creatures since he is considered one of them. There’s a point in which he’s having a heated conversation with his father in which he says something to the effect of “if humans didn’t kill monsters maybe the monsters wouldn’t kill humans.” The theme of acceptance in the face of misjudgments is one that is prevalent throughout the whole movie, and is shown even more so in regards to the relationship between Hellboy and Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). The downside to all of this is that there are so many stories at play that I feel like I watched 30 mini movies all slammed together to form one. It’s very overwhelming and I wish the writers had eased up a bit so as to allow the viewer to appreciate the film and the characters more instead of changing things up every 60 seconds. We want there to be stakes and we want to feel an emotional attachment to these characters and by not giving the viewer enough time to experience that, it results in a film that is good for mindless entertainment but not much more than that.
In all, there is a lot to enjoy with HELLBOY but I think the majority of it gets lost in all the unnecessary antics and storylines. David Harbour does the role justice and was able to bring enough of his own flair to separate himself from Ron Pearlman’s performance, but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to save this film. Furthermore, both Milla Jovovich and Sasha Lane (who plays Alice) both prove to be strong characters, even if we don’t get as much screen time with them as we deserve. If Mignola’s goal was to make a movie that was darker and grittier than the one that Del Toro created, he may have missed his mark by incorporating cringe-worthy humor and characters made to look like cheap second-hand CGI creatures. Marshall, for his part, does bring the horror to the forefront and honestly, it’s the best part of the film, I just wish the whole movie could have been that impactful. Is HELLBOY a dud? I wouldn’t go that far as it does have some thrilling moments and is very reminiscent of an adult version of the Brother’s Grimm, I would just recommend tempering expectations so as to not be let down. HELLBOY arrives in theaters this Friday, April 12th, from Lionsgate.