Film Review – Hellboy (2019)
No, I haven’t seen Shazam! yet, the current superhero film that is both beloved by critics and audience members alike. Instead, I watched Hellboy, which if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed, critics seem to loath and the general audience are lukewarm about. It’s already being hailed as a financial flop.
To be honest, when I became aware of the Hellboy reboot, I didn’t understand it from a financial perspective. The del Toro films weren’t massive blockbusters to begin with. Rebooting it would mean alienating its fan-base. Not to mention that the reboot was going to be R-rated! So those teenage brats who spent so much of their parents money on these damn movies aren’t even able to see it!
But the trailer seemed interesting enough. Nothing mind-blowing mind you, but it made me chuckle a bit. David Harbour seemed like an inspired choice for the titular role. Ian McShane is one of my favorite actors so it had that going for it. It was also directed by Neil Marshall, a talented director who made one of the finest werewolf films — Dog Soldiers— and one of the few films that made me scream like a little girl: The Descent. Considering all this, I was cautiously optimistic about the eventual end result.
Yet I have to admit, the critics had me worried…
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Neil Marshall
Written By: Andrew Cosby
Starring: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Stephen Graham, Douglas Tait, Alistair Petrie, Sophie Okonedo, Brian Gleeson with “Twisty Troy” James and Thomas Haden Church as Lobster Johnson
Hellboy (David Harbour) is an officer of the B.P.R.D — The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. As the title suggests, this organization focuses entirely on any occult or supernatural phenomena. Hellboy is the bureau’s invaluable asset as he’s a muscled-bound demon spawned from Nazi experimentation. He possesses superhuman strength and an incredible healing factor. Like The Hulk, he is basically very good at smashing things.
Despite his demonic origins, he has become a force for good thanks to the tough but fair parenting of Professor Bloom (Ian McShane), a high-ranking B.P.R.D member who saved Hellboy from the Nazi’s — with some help from Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church), a 1940’s vigilante.
But in his years of service, Hellboy has made quite a few enemies. Most notably, Grugach (voiced by Stephen Graham, performed by Douglas Tait), a giant hog-like fairy with a severe grudge against Hellboy. Thanks to the advice of Baba Yaga (”Twisty Stephen” James), a demon with a penchant for baby meat, Gruagach pursues the resurrection of a powerful sorceress, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), who had been defeated in the age of King Arthur.
Her resurrection could mean the end of the human race, so Hellboy must try to stop her at all cost. He’s not alone however, as he receives help from Alice (Sasha Lane), a powerful psychic, and Ben Daimo (Daniel Dae Kim), an experienced soldier who when properly triggered, can transform into a jaguar (yes, really).
But in order to defeat Nimue, Hellboy must also defeat his inner ‘demon’ as he begins to feel a powerful and romantic connection with her. Eventually he must decide on what side he stands — the humans or the monsters of the underworld.
David Harbour as Hellboy
Out of all the bad press this film received, it seems that none of it had a bad word to say about David Harbour’s performance as Hellboy. This is quite an achievement, especially with how beloved Perlman was in the part. Perlman seemed born to play the part, embodying the character the moment the camera started rolling. You can see it in the way he lights his cigar or holds that big freaking gun — this guy was Hellboy.
The fact that Harbour can make the character his own just shows you what a good actor he really is. It does help that these characters live in different worlds: Perlman’s Hellboy lived in PG-13 world, while Harbour lives in the R-rated world.
For all of his tough exterior, Perlman’s Hellboy was essentially a soft-hearted adolescent. Harbour is a more withered Hellboy. A middle-aged man riddled with battle scars, who hides his emotions through alcoholic consumption and pithy temper tantrums. Someone who has to face up to some unimaginable Lovecraftian horror on a daily basis and has become utterly desensitized to it.
It’s a joy to see both versions of Hellboy on screen. And it’s honestly a little sad that it’s likely we won’t see either iteration on screen again — if the lackluster box-office is anything to go by.
Kind of a Bloated Mess…But Oh So Much Fun!
One of the many complaints this film has received is its heavy reliance on exposition. While this is certainly not unfounded, I must admit that it didn’t bother me much. It’s hard to do this story with so much background mythology without any forced exposition. But whenever this happens, they found a way to make it entertaining.
This is partly due to its large and entertaining cast of characters. You can see that screenwriter Andrew Cosby struggled to put it all in. Origins of Hellboy and his fellow B.P.R.D are quickly delved into, before we move on to the main story. The story needs to pause every now and then, just so we can see another flashback. It’s also fairly obvious that numerous story ideas were tied together in one narrative. Many subplots, such as Hellboy’s hunt for giants, could have easily been omitted.
Even if the writer inside me considers this a screenwriting sin, I must confess that it really didn’t bother me, mostly because the entire product felt like a labor of love. It’s so obvious that Andrew Cosby really loves the Mignola’s comic book universe. A great example of this is the cameo by Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church), a popular character in the Hellboy universe. Most viewers are probably unfamiliar with the character, yet this is probably the only chance we will ever see him on the big screen. (Having said that, I would love a stand-alone 1940’s era set adventure film with Haden Church as Lobster Johnson.)
All of the supporting characters bring something to the table. Sasha Lane might not be the greatest actress (some of her delivery could have used some work), but her charisma nevertheless manages to pull her through.
The always wonderful Ian McShane is excellent as Professor Bloom. There is a wonderful scene where Bloom is filing Hellboy’s horns, similar to how a father would help shave his son. There’s some wonderful chemistry between McShane and Harbour and it’s too bad we didn’t get more little scenes like this — there’s admittedly just too much going on for scenes like this.
Even the bad guys are a lot of fun. Milla Jovovich shines as the evil sorcerer Nimue, making a character that feels bland on paper captivating on screen. Stephen Graham provides some hilarious voice-over work for Gruagach (with some excellent motion-capture work by Douglas Tait), the giant hog-monster who traverses the world to assemble the body-parts of Nimeu.
The absolute stand-out however is Baba Yaga (“Twisty Troy” James), a character so awesome, that she deserves a special mention.
Though there is plenty of monster action in the movie, the absolute best sequence in the film is when Hellboy comes in contact with the Baba Yaga. Though most of the supernatural creatures in the film are rendered through CGI, Baba Yaga is portrayed by the incredible spine-twisting talent known as “Twisty Troy” James — with help of the awe-inspiring make-up work by Joel Harlow.
Baba Yaga is a scarier creature than anything you will see in a commercial horror film. A witch that walks about on wooden legs and dines on the flesh of children, this creature deserves to be hailed as one of the great cinematic monsters. While it’s understandable that most of the monsters are brought to life via CGI, Baba Yaga proves that doing it via practical effects makes it ultimately more memorable and lifelike.
So if they make a sequel, which is highly unlikely, the Baba Yaga NEEDS to come back.
The Blockbuster Mentality
The Hellboy reboot is certainly not a perfect film. As stated before, the pace is relentless and the film barely gets a chance to breath due to its bloated script. I don’t want to talk like an old man and complain about the excessive amount of CGI but I have to mention it: I’m tired of looking at movies that seem made almost completely with a green screen.
But its biggest issue is how the film has a tacked on Marvel-esque ending. Now I don’t blame the producers for wanting Hellboy to be the start of a profitable franchise. I get it. They want some of that sweet Marvel dough. But did they really have to force in those sequel teases? Did they really think that putting it in there, would made this film more likely to succeed? Haven’t we learn nothing from Ghostbusters 2016?
While I won’t spoil anything, the ending of Hellboy clearly teases a sequel adversary and a wink-wink appearance of one familiar character. This will almost be even more annoying if we never actually get a sequel.
And seriously, can we stop with those annoying after credits scenes? I’m beginning to really hate sitting through hundreds of rolling credits, just to see some tacked-on scene, hinting at some character which I’ve never heard off and need to Google later on.
Just stop it. Just make one movie, end it nicely, and if the market allows it, make a sequel. Just stop with these annoying after credits scenes! I know it’s hard to believe but I have other things to do — other pointless films to watch and review.
Hellboy 2019 is gloriously insane if bloated blockbuster film…and an ambitious and risky R-rated reboot of an already great films series that miraculously pays off. Expect excessive gore and Lovecraftian horror. Expect a kick-ass soundtrack and a cast of wacky characters you actually care about it. Expect one of the best monsters you will see on the big screen this year.
It’s the kind of blockbuster film we won’t likely see anytime soon. It’s the first surprise of the year for me since I didn’t expect to have so much fun. It’s not without its flaws. It has the usual barrage of lame CGI and the after-credits scene reeks of desperation.
But it’s obvious that screenwriter Andrew Cosby and director Neil Marshall really loved the material. It’s hard to follow-up Guillermo del Toro’s previous Hellboy iterations but they managed to make it something special indeed.
Give this film a chance. This Hellboy deserves another big-screen appearance.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on Hellboy? Comment down below!
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