In this reboot of the franchise, Hellboy (David Harbour), is a grumpy and grungy half-demon who is sent by his adopted father (Ian McShane) to battle supernatural enemies. After a series of such fights, he’s joined by psychic Alice (Sasha Lane) and hard-ass soldier Major Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) to stop the resurrection of Nimue (Milla Jovovich). If she’s allowed to rise, she will release a plague that will kill all of mankind… Or maybe she won’t and instead join with Hellboy to cause an unrelated apocalypse… Or maybe this pig fairy will kill Hellboy… Or perhaps Baba Yaga, who set the resurrection in motion, has a plan of her own… Or maybe Daimio will kill Hellboy… Or maybe something connected to King Arthur will… Oh who cares. It’s about Hellboy hitting things.
Well… It isn’t horrible. Sure, the dialog is something out of a junior high schooler’s fan fiction (Hellboy only whines or speaks in quips), the characters are underdeveloped, the tone wavers around aimlessly, and the structure is a mess, but the end result isn’t horrible. It just isn’t very good.
I feel I need to say that as multiple reviewers immediately put Hellboy on their worst of the year list, and it doesn’t belong there. There’s some nice monster design work, primarily on some creatures that show up only briefly in the finale, but it is nice. And there’s lots of action—none of it is memorable, but it’s serviceable if you aren’t asking for much. And while it takes itself too seriously at times, it isn’t a non-stop gloom factory.
It fits nicely with other poorly thought-out genre projects like The Last Witch Hunter and Season of the Witch, which are more rightly forgotten than actively hated.
The problems are apparent with its construction, which screams “designed in editing.” We start with a wrestling death match before Hellboy is sent off to England where things end in a couple more fights. He’s then tossed in with a team which is sent to a manner house he’d passed through for a scene of horror—and that’s where the movie should have started. The previous action scenes (40 minutes worth) have nothing to do with the “story,” could have been cut without effecting the “story,” and they set a very different tone than the one of horror we are now thrust into. But that tone doesn’t stick either, as Hellboy meanders from battle to battle, shifting from light comedy to adventure fantasy and back to horror based purely on the footage they happened to have of that particular fight.
There’s no character development, but rather character exposition, as we’re told that Hellboy’s “father” was a killer who decided not to kill Hellboy and is now nicer (why? In what way?). told that Hellboy and Alice are close (in what way? When?), told that Hellboy is upset about his past (why? How?), and the list goes on. Without character, there are no stakes, and nothing propelling the “story” forward.
As for that story, well, it’s just whatever they decided to drop in: Nazi’s and Rasputin at the beginning, but then they’re gone; Giants and other fairy folk rising, but they don’t matter for long; The witch Baba Yaga’s manipulations, which seem vital, but vanish; A species-destroying plague, which also is forgotten; Arthurian legend, which after a brief mention, is not touched on until an hour and twenty minutes into the film, and becomes the main plot for a time; And Hellboy as the cause of the apocalypse, which weaves around the other threads. Choose a plot guys!
And while it is nice to looks at a film purely on its own merits, when part of a franchise, a movie must always stand with its kin; In this case, its kin are Guilermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). Perhaps this Hellboy reboot shouldn’t be blamed for putting the final nail into the coffin of del Toro’s proposed final film in his unfinished Hellboy trilogy, but it can’t avoid comparison to the two finished films, and they are so much better. Hellboy 2019 is inferior in every way: character, story, plot, acting, dialog, art design, special effects (yes, a 2004 film runs rings around a 2019 one), makeup, editing, cinematography, music, emotion, and theme (why in the reboot was the individual standing up for an oppressed minority made to be the villain—might want to think about that). If this was the only Hellboy film, it could have been thought of as an overpriced B-movie for kids (as long as you don’t mind kids hearing “fuck” every other sentence), but next to those, I can’t see it as anything but a failure of imagination and opportunity.
I give it Two Reels, but make that a very weak Two.