Another one. Yet another reboot for a franchise that didn’t need one. There are only two Hellboy films, which came out in the early 2000s. What made them such a hit was the unique flavor that actor Ron Perlman brought to the main role and Guillermo del Toro developed behind the camera. The films did well financially, but the studio parted ways with both men when they refused to take a darker tone with the material. Thus it was up to Neil Marshall, from Game of Thrones, to helm this new reboot and try and both live up to the del Toro films, as well as bring about the sense of horror that the studio was asking for.
Hellboy is a comic book adaptation of the half-demon half-human paranormal hunter Hellboy (David Harbour). In this film the evil Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) is trying to rise from the dead and wreak the forces of hell onto the world. Hellboy must debate between his duality and choose who to fight for: the humans who outcast him, or the dark forces that welcome him.
This iteration of Hellboy suffers from being pulled at from two opposite sides: the wise-cracking Ron Perlman version fans loved, and the horror and gore that Warner Bros. thinks will sell tickets. Marshall and the tepid script from Andrew Cosby are able to appease neither side by mixing and matching themes and elements to create a disfigured narrative. In one scene, Hellboy is taking out three giants, he impales one with a tree, and we see the giant’s skull disgustingly dissolve as it slithers down the tree; but then this giant corpse burps on Hellboy. The result is that the audience is left perplexed, we’d just seen a grimy and unpleasant visual depiction and a joke seems to have been shoehorned in: is anyone laughing? The clashes of humor and extreme violence not only leave the audience indifferent, but at points it nearly becomes insensitive. Viewers are only entertained by on-screen violence to a certain degree, afterwards a natural impulse of repulsion sets in.
The extremely likeable Stranger Things actor, David Harbour, brings as much energy as he can to Hellboy, and he certainly has a fun time with one-liners. However, Harbour seems to be left largely to his own devices, and he doesn’t have the charisma of Perlman to carry this film by himself. His sidekicks throughout the film seems to be a revolving door, with a new one appearing every few scenes (a Mexican vampire, a Seer, a were-jaguar, etc.). The result is a barrage of characters, exposition, and backstories, that the film is spending handfuls of scenes to develop only to have these characters seem even more one-dimensional and sometimes disappear from the film altogether. Thus, Harbour is not able to give any sense of progression to his Hellboy since he has no consistent screen-partner to play off of. The overstuffing not only seems to happen in the cast, but in the story as well; there is simply so much material and lore thrown at us that it seems to be more ripe for a trilogy or a TV series, instead of this rushed and messy job.
The reason why del Toro’s Hellboy films were so loved was because they never took themselves too seriously. The comics themselves were sometimes so ridiculous they had to be taken as satire. This 2019 reboot, however, seems to have missed the memo and is playing the entire story with a straight face, thinking of the minor jokes as quips instead of self-criticism to its genre. This prompts a tacky atmosphere that reminds one of straight-to-DVD B-movie fare; certainly not a wide-release franchise-building film.
After delivering two hits Warner Bros. got greedy and let del Toro and Perlman depart; the two who had brought such vivid light to a ridiculous character. This new reboot is a shameful money grab where nothing seems to work, the overlapping tones and misused violence only add to repulsion and confusion for viewers. The result feels like a heavy metal music video with a huge budget. One thing this film does achieve is in shaming the reputation of del Toro’s films.