Running Time: 120 minutes
Written by: Andrew Cosby
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Featuring: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim and Thomas Haden Church
Lady Hatton:“On an island off the coast of Scotland, something was summoned from the depths of Hell, something that would end mankind.”
Hellboy:“And this thing, did it show up?”
Lady Hatton:“Oh, yes. You did.”
Released this week is the third movie made out of Mike Mignola’s ‘Hellboy’ comic book character, this one serving as a reboot after the first two directed by Guillermo del Toro failed to live up to the box office potential the studio had for them, as well as the fact that Del Toro has moved onto other projects. There had been rumours over the years of a third movie in his series, to close out the story in a fitting way, but this has not come to pass, mainly because of budgetary concerns, as well as the fact that creator Mignola felt left out of the creative process and who still owns at least partial rights to the titular character. The first two movies “Hellboy” (2004) and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008) both had very big budgets (for their time) and seemed to be following a trajectory that may have been wrapped up in a possible third movie, it is a shame that never occurred. The main reasons this third movie never eventuated was the relatively poor box office of both movies, they also showed early indications of what del Toro’s ‘Hobbit’ movies may have looked like. The other factors that weighed in for del Toro not completing this trilogy are the fact that he sets himself so many projects with little follow through as well as his bankability as a director, even now with the critical as well as commercial failures that have occurred he still finds it difficult to get his own movies green lit. These are some of the reasons that we have ended up with this new “Hellboy” (2019) which doesn’t come close to touching the two previous installments, not only that it seems like it was rushed into production with little idea of how it should be presented in terms of tone, look, story and narrative which is a huge missed opportunity for all involved, in particular director Neil Marshall and star David Harbour who are both coming off successful stints on massively popular television shows in “Game of Thrones” (2009-2019) and “Stranger Things” (2017-present) respectively. The first indication (and it seems the only one required) is that there are sixteen producers credited on this movie which is far too many masters to serve for anyone, I am at a loss as to why “Hellboy” required so many chefs to cook what amounts to an overcooked meal.
There are very few movies that I have seen in cinemas that do not have some redeeming value in one way or another, whether it is the performances, the direction, some of the plot or even the spcial effects. What is hard to accept is the very idea that “Hellboy” is devoid of any reason to seek it out at in cinemas at all. What is criminal is the way in which these filmmakers have taken a character that has been seen twice before as a misfit who while being a dark soul has a sense of humour as well as people around him he trusts and are as oddball as he is, who can forget Abe Sapien for example? Not only that but this new Hellboy is hard to like and has no support so he carries almost all the scenes by himself, which he needs as is proven in the final act which is rushed as well as non sensical and illogical. We also are provided with what seems an overly mixed and convoluted plot, and a narrative that is so jumbled by the time the final act arrives it has been forgotten, or worse it is obvious that none of the backstory is really required as the entire plot is not only nonsense but ripped from any number of genre movies that have come before it. One of the strengths of the previous movies was that del Toro had built an entire world that was easily accessible in the first movie and was broadened in the second. Not only is this latest movie muddled in where it is set, but it is painted with such a broad brush that there are no layers to the locations or any feeling of how the environs have been constructed. When bringing a comic book movie to the screen, one that also mixes in elements of horror and fantasy, it has better be interesting and original as well as engaging which “Hellboy” fails to accomplish on any level, in fact I would go so far as to say that this movie commits the most heinous cinematic crime in that it is dull and boring.
“Hellboy” begins during the age of King Arthur, where Nimue, the Blood Queen, is betrayed by her coven as she prepares to wipe out humanity and is dismembered by Merlin and King Arthur, who scatter her remains across Europe. In the present day, Gruagach, a hog-like creature, seeks advice from a supernatural being, Baba Yaga to exact revenge on Hellboy. She suggests resurrecting Nimue and gives him the locations of her scattered body parts. Three weeks later, Hellboy, who lives and works at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence, which is located in America, is ordered by his adopted father, Trevor Bruttenholm, to go to England to aide the Osiris Club in hunting three giants. The club’s seer, Lady Hatton, reveals to Hellboy that Bruttenholm found him on an island during World War II after the Nazis summoned him, and chose to raise him as his son rather than kill him. This is just the beginning of the movie and I have left out a few details as well as what happens after the giant hunt, it really is as bad as it sounds and is compounded by trope laden characters and dialogue.
Directed by Neil Marshall who has been a stalwart of both movies and television, “Hellboy” on the surface seemed like a perfect fit, as it was a genre movie that also included a healthy dose of modern mythology. Marshall has dealt with these elements before on “Game of Thrones” as well as his own horror movies, “Dog Soldiers” (2002) and the now legendary “Descent” (2005), but here he has too much going against him to create something that rivals his earlier work. He has an inexperienced screenwriter in Andrew Cosby, far too many producers that evidently were heavy handed in their dealings with him and a budget that appears to have been far to small to create believable effects on-screen which is unforgivable in that this was an effects heavy movie. My belief is that Marshall has done his best to put together a movie that was doomed from the outset which is a disservice to him as this was his first time directing a movie since the misjudged “Centurion” (2010) that suffered from a far to small a budget for its scope. It has been proven time and again that Marshall is a very good director as can be seen by his “Game of Thrones” duty but he really required the right material for big screen success, he has a great eye for horror as well as creating memorable movies, under favourable conditions.
In some cases these genre movies are cast with great actors always knowing what kind of movie they are appearing in, however with the exception of David Harbour, who it has to be said is a very good Hellboy, the rest of the cast seem lost, all either employing very bad accents or just playing parts they have inhabited many times before. So we have an inexperienced Sasha Lane, who as an actress is not only authentic but original, who really is asked to do too much of the heavy lifting in many scenes as well as Daniel Dae Kim who plays a character that is so obvious that when his own revelation comes it is just a complete anti-climax. Then there is Ian McShane who as a kind of grumpy old mentor we have seen him do before, most recently in “American Gods” (2018-present) but here it feels phoned in, and may have been influenced by the production hassles that have created a movie with little redeeming values, not even the cast can save this mess.
As the budget is less than the first movie, and that is comparing 2004 dollars to 2019 there has to be some kind of quality loss somewhere, which on the surface seems to be the special effects and CGI, as both of these elements look lacklustre and in some cases unfinished. In many instances the CGI stands out so bad that it is distracting, a good example is the fight between the giants and Hellboy where the entire sequence looks dated as well as out of place, the quality is so low that it is distracting and takes an audience out of the story completely.
This is a movie that attempts to raise the stakes by offering a R-Rated take on a property that worked fine when the rating was much lower, the problem is with the quality of the entire production which should have been much better than what has turned out. I would not recommend this movie at all in any capacity; it is not worth the time needed to invest to sot and watch. There are far better examples of genre movies out there, in fact you would be better re-watching the first two del Toro movies, they are far superior and much more enjoyable.