Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Penelope Mitchell, Daniel Dae Kim
Runtime: 2 hrs 1 min
Rating: M18 (Violence and Gore)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: https://hellboy.movie
Opening Day: 11 April 2019
Synopsis: 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, “Stranger Things”) called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants. There he discovers The Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil series), 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.
We loved the two del Toro ‘Hellboy’ movies, and we loved Ron Perlman as the grumpy anti-hero, but that doesn’t mean we were biased against any reboot in the first place; on the contrary, we were intrigued to see what Neil Marshall, released from the confines of Westeros, would do with Mike Mignola’s cult comic book creation, especially in keeping with its R-rated horror and fantasy conventions. Yet, as we quickly realised, it isn’t just sufficient to go into Marshall’s iteration with an open and curious disposition; oh no, even more crucially, you’ll need to be prepared to set aside all manner of taste and style in order to sit through a loud, garish and altogether mind-numbing two-hour monster bash-up, complete with plenty of gore, violence and profanity should you choose the more adult-skewing (read: M18) version.
How much you enjoy ‘Hellboy’ depends on how much you’d like to see our literal demon from hell eviscerate, flay and disembowel a delirious cavalcade of otherworldly creatures, including a vampire in disguise as a lucha libre wrestler, three man-eating English giants, a foul-mouthed Scottish were-boar demon, and a backwards-walking, one-eyed witch named Baba Yaga. That’s not the extent of its excess, which also involves cheetah werewolves, child-stealing fairies, Nazi occult rituals featuring cameos by both Rasputin and Leni Riefenstahl, and Sasha Lane as a psychic who vomits out Ian McShane in the form of a slimy, serpentine apparition. There’s a whole lot of wild and wacky within, though rendered in Marshall’s aesthetic priority of utter grotesqueness designed to test your limits of disgust.
Arguably, that in itself seems to have taken precedence over coherent storytelling, because the plotting is quite simply a mess. Between frenetically-paced CGI-enhanced set-pieces is a race against time to stop Nimue (Milla Jovovich) from unleashing hell on earth in a bid for world domination, she an ancient witch from King Arthur’s time (yes, that King Arthur) whose reign of terror was temporarily dismembered when her body was hacked into pieces and strewn all over Britain. Nimue wants Hellboy to unleash his birth nature as a spawn of the devil, which happen to coincide at a time when the latter is also trying to figure out his place on Earth, setting up a climax that isn’t so hard to guess just which side of good or evil Hellboy eventually chooses of his own accord.
As simple as that may seem, the story takes plenty of detours. There is a mythical secret society called the Osiris Club who recruits Hellboy to kill the aforementioned giants terrorising the English countryside, but then decides to try to assassinate him; there is also a reunion between Hellboy and Baba Yaga in her rococo chicken-legged hut that is otherwise superfluous if not for an end-credit scene which teases the appearance of Koshchei. But more significantly, the narrative takes pains to explain the backstories of Hellboy’s sidekicks: Alice Monaghan (Lane), an Irish woman whom Hellboy rescued from fairies as a baby and whom can speak with the dead as a result; and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), a former soldier turned Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.R.P.D.) agent who can turn into a jaguar in anger or pain.
It is overstuffed all right, which in turn diminishes what should be a compelling character arc about Hellboy’s singular humanity. Just like del Toro’s first ‘Hellboy’, this one is also supposedly about our titular character’s true nature, being half-human and half-demon as he is. That dilemma is rooted as much in Nimue’s overtures to him to rule the world beside her as it is in Hellboy’s relationship with his father Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), given how it was the latter who raised him and groomed him into becoming a BRPD agent. Unfortunately, what could have been a poignant father-son dynamic is reduced to platitudes that ring hollow, no thanks to unnecessary subplots which do little for the movie except clutter it with plenty of chaotic and enervating action.
There is also consequently little to appreciate about David Harbour’s performance, even if he tries to channel the same world-weary gravitas which Perlman did with absolute perfection in the earlier two films. As good as he is with delivering the sarcastic wisecracks in Andrew Cosby’s script, Harbour is ultimately underserved by Cosby’s writing that gives him far less time and room to breathe. McShane is equally wasted in the movie, seeing as how he pops up every now and then for no more than a glorified cameo, and how he and Harbour just do not have enough scenes together to make their characters’ relationship matter as much as it should. The relentless visual-effects onslaught also drowns Lane and Kim, while strangely giving Jovovich too little chance to demonstrate her fearsome powers.
Like we said at the beginning, we were not averse to a big-screen reinterpretation of Hellboy, even as we loved the del Toro films as much as his fanboys would. But there is little to like about this reboot, which in rushing from scene to scene and storyline to story line leaves it no more than a cacophonous muddle. Even with two memorable battle-filled ‘Game of Thrones’ episodes under his belt, Marshall struggles to make the spectacle visually remarkable, except for say occasional yucky details that underscore his gore-hound credentials. And by drowning out the drama, the film sacrifices Hellboy’s humanity, leaving us with no more than a tandoori-red monster hunter filled with angst and cynicism. To call sitting through it hell is a tad harsh, but let’s just say that it was indeed torturous.
(Loud, garish and altogether mind-numbing, this graceless and grotesque monster bash-up is a pointless reboot which sacrifices its character's humanity for frenetic CGI-enhanced set-pieces)
Review by Gabriel Chong