Very recently preceded by the DCEU’s best entry yet in Shazam and with Marvel’s gargantuan Avengers Endgame just around the corner, it’s hard to see the box office potential in a lower-budget reboot of a cult hero from a far less well known comics house. Hellboy tries to separate itself from the superhero pack with swearing and copious gore but completely lacks the fun of its more mainstream counterparts and has none of the earnest, hand-crafted charm of Guillermo del Toro’s mid-noughties takes on the character. It’s a loud, ugly mess, clearly the end result of a deeply troubled production with absolutely nothing to recommend it.
Abandoning the plotlines set up in del Toro’s films, Neil Marshall and writer Andrew Cosby send Hellboy (David Harbour) to England, where all powerful ancient blood witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich) is set to re-emerge and destroy the world. The plot is disjointed and disrupted frequently by turgid and boring exposition dumps as a backstory featuring King Arthur is explained and re-explained over and over again. Nothing that happens seems to hold any particular weight, all the way to the simultaneously overcooked and anticlimactic final showdown. The actors mostly look dispirited and even Ian McShane, as Hellboy’s adoptive father, isn’t having as much fun as you’d expect.
Harbour and Jovovich don’t exactly do anything wrong, but the lazy dialogue and barrel-scraping quips limit any impact either can actually make. Meanwhile, Daniel Dae Kim and American Honey’s Sasha Lane are saddled with appalling English accents – Lane’s is one of the worst I’ve ever heard – and give absolutely dreadful performances to match. Lane, in particular, jars you out of the film with every line, nothing like the raw energy and natural charisma she displayed in her debut film. The aggressively loud action doesn’t fare much better, with too many cuts and erratic lighting making it very hard to follow.
Marshall delights in chucking viscera at you at every opportunity, and the final attack on London leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, its wholesale and mean-spirited slaughter of screaming civilians finding itself far more funny and imaginative than it actually is. On top of that, the CG for the monsters committing the carnage is ropey at best, looking far worse than the practical and varied creatures that populated del Toro’s Hellboys. Not only is Hellboy one of the very worst films of 2019, the fact that this is what we got instead of a trilogy capper for del Toro, Ron Perlman and co just makes this pointless reboot insulting.
I think it’s important to understand the troubled nature of the production, but nevertheless, I do agree with you. I feel it’s an almost tragic case of a surplus of ideas and concepts cobbled together into what is ultimately a cold, loud overly violent disaster. For me, the fatal flaws are pacing, editing and dialogue, and that’s even before you come to the cluttered screenplay. 😦