Review: Hellboy (2019)

From its very first opening moments, the 2019 reboot “Hellboy” shows us exactly the kind of movie that it is – with a bird eating the liquefied eyeball of a rotten corpse, and Ian McShane throwing a gratuitous F-bomb.

Specifically, it’s the kind of movie that a 13-year-old who thinks he’s edgy would make – lots of swearing, lots of characters being obnoxious, lots of extremely graphic violence shown in lovingly-framed detail, and so on. “Hellboy” seems to aspire to be kind of like “Deadpool” in its mixture of comedy and bloody violence, but the meandering, overstuffed storyline and unlikable lead characters make it a chore to sit through.

After killing a B.P.R.D. agent who had been vampirized, Hellboy (David Harbour) angsts about his status as a monster, and what that means to an organization dedicated to stamping them out. He’s then sent to help the Osiris Club in England with exterminating a trio of giants… only for the Club to try to kill him because he’s destined to bring about the apocalypse. If you’re wondering what all this has to do with the main plot, the answer is: very little.

The actual villain of the piece is Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the legendary sorceress, who was chopped into six pieces by King Arthur and sent to six different parts of England. Not the world. Not Europe. Just England. Now the pig-fae Gruagach (Stephen Graham) is reuniting her various body parts – and if she is fully restored, she will bring down an apocalyptic plague across the entire world, wiping out humanity.

Hellboy is soon called on to stop Nimue, along with ghost-punching medium Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and surly B.P.R.D. agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). But Nimue quickly decides that she wants Hellboy as her king, since she knows of his apocalyptic destiny and wants him her to rule over a new world at her side. Unfortunately for the current world, Hellboy seems quite tempted by the offer.

“Hellboy” was already facing an uphill battle, given that the character’s previous appearances were directed by the beloved Guillermo del Toro. But even if one appreciates it entirely on its own merits, the movie is still pretty terrible – and only part of that is due to the relentless swearing and hyper-graphic gore, which feel like a teen boy’s idea of what an R-rated movie should be like.

One of the big problems is that the story is an overstuffed mess, with subplots unrelated to the main plot. Whole chunks of the narrative could have been easily streamlined out, such as Hellboy’s fight with the giants, which feels like a side-quest in a video game. The cinematography is pretty ugly and grimy, the special effects range from acceptable to “how did this get released in theaters?”, and the dialogue is bad more often than not (“But it’s not going to work, you know, cause I’m a Capricorn and you’re f***ing nuts!”).

It also has a wealth of characters who exist entirely to vomit exposition. Baba Yaga, for instance, is a character who exists entirely to tell people to go places, rather than having any real impact on the plot. Or consider the blind woman with precognitive powers, who is just there to recount baby’s Hellboy’s entry into our world, a bizarre scene that is somehow sidetracked by the appearance of Lobster Johnson. “Who?” you may be asking. The answer: nobody who matters to the plot, so it doesn’t matter.

Of course, the main characters aren’t much better. It’s worth noting that no criticism should fall upon David Harbour, who gives as good a performance as anyone could possibly give. The movie fails him, not the other way around.

Specifically, it fails him by making Hellboy a whiny, passive-aggressive brat who is easily swayed by Nimue and gripes about his father constantly. His angst over monsters not getting to live in the open seems rather hollow as well, considering that we see virtually no monsters who aren’t actively harmful to humans… and since Hellboy himself is hardly a secret, since he goes on a days-long bender in a Mexican bar.

The other characters aren’t particularly likable either – Alice tends towards being smugly annoying, and Daimio seems to be stuck in a combatively bad mood with no particular reason or resolution. No, being revealed as a werejaguar does not count as an arc. The closest to a character who actually feels three-dimensional is Ian McShane’s Professor Broom, although even he isn’t a terribly likable person.

The 2019 reboot of “Hellboy” stumbles badly in its attempt to give us a darker, grittier portrait of our demonic hero – mainly because of the sloppy plot and painfully clumsy script. Stick with the comics or the earlier films.

Review: Hellboy Animated

Folklore and legend are rich with plenty of ghouls, gods and monsters that fit nicely into the “Hellboy” universe. And “Hellboy: Sword of Storms/Blood & Iron” deals with some of the supernatural nasties in a pair of animated spinoff adventures. These two stories are solid if not brilliant, and they have plenty of Hellboy quips, weird creatures, and a healthy splattering of gore, fire and magic.

In “Blood and Iron,” the BPRD is asked to investigate a haunted mansion, and Professor Broom insists that Liz, Hellboy, Abe and himself go on the mission. Though the hype-happy owner is only interested in using the investigation to make money, the place is really haunted — bluish ghosts drift around, statues weep, and a witches’ magic circle is on the floor.

It soon becomes obvious that a pair of harpy-witches are trying to resurrect the evil Erzsebet Ondrushko, a horrendous vampire who was abducting young girls so she could bathe in their blood. Decades ago, Professor Broom defeated her and seemingly killed her. Now with Abe captured by the hags, Liz and Broom are in a race against time to stop the vampire’s resurrection — and even if they succeed, there’s still their witch-goddess Hecate, whom Hellboy must somehow stop.

And in “Sword of Storms,” first the team ventures into a green, slimy, root-filled underground temple, where they must battle an ancient bat-deity and a small army of Aztec mummies. Then to the main plot — a history professor receives an ancient scroll that tells the story of the demonic brothers Thunder and Lightning, and a doomed love between a princess and a young samurai. And when the professor finds the samurai’s sword — surprise! — he gets possessed by the demons.

But when the BPRD is called in, Hellboy touches the sword as well — and is sucked into a bizarre otherworld full of monsters, ghosts and magical creatures. In the meantime, Abe and Liz are caught in a typhoon that strands them in the middle of nowhere — and it turns out that dragons are on the way. To save civilization, Hellboy must not only escape from the otherworld of Japenese legend, but also deal with the demons and ghosts….

“Hellboy: Sword of Storms” and “Hellboy: Blood and Iron” are somewhat different beasts from the movies made by Guillermo del Toro — they have some characters and plots that were from the original Mike Mignola comics, and the art is more reminiscent of those. They’re fun additions to the Hellboy mythos, but they do have some flaws in there (the pallid ghostly romance in “Sword of Storms,” which is utterly unegaging because we don’t know or care about these people).

They are also quite different from each other — “Sword of Storms” is a very straightforward and simple storyline that travels along two parallel paths, while “Blood and Iron” branches out into multiple storylines (and even goes backward!). And they have plenty of dark facets — gore, slime, thunderstorms, creepy forests, haunted mansions and the various monsters that arise, ranging from harpies to headless goblins. And the writers do a pretty good job adding in that little humorous edge to the stories as well (“He really likes cucumbers… WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!”).

Ron Perlman’s vocals make this Hellboy absolutely perfect — he’s sarcastic but good-hearted (“You’re lucky we let you be seen with us!”), practical, and usually ends up dealing with all the messy stuff. Doug Jones provides an intellectual slant as the resourceful, mellow fish-man Abe, and Selma Blair has a little trouble bringing the sharp-witted pyrokinetic Liz to life. And John Hurt gets to be the star of “Blood and Iron,” where Professor Broom comes face to face with an old nemesis.

“Hellboy: Sword of Storms/Blood and Iron” have a few flaws, but they are solid animated adventures with plenty of monsters and dark twists. Just remember: These are definitely not for kids.

Dragging myself through Hellboy

And before anyone gets mad, I am speaking of the 2019 reboot of Hellboy, not the excellent comic book series or Guillermo del Toro’s also-excellent movie (or its also-also excellent sequel).

This movie is genuinely hard to watch. And I don’t say that because it’s needlessly gory in a “I AM SO EDGY IT’S NOT A PHASE MOM” kind of way. It is hard to watch because there are so many “why” and “why is this in the movie” and “this is pointless” and “this person’s accent is very bad” moments. Why did they hire two Americans to play two English people, especially when one of those English people was an American in the comics? And neither of them is good at accents?

And there is so… much… infodumping. It feels like every person we encounter pelts exposition at us until the “welcome to the BPRD” scene from the 2004 film feels like a gentle breeze wafting over my face.

And why the hell is Lobster Johnson in here? Sure, I know who he is -because I have no life and my brain overflows with trivia that nobody cares about – but can you imagine being some ordinary person going to see a movie about a demon paranormal investigator, and then randomly this other character takes over for an important scene with no explanation? And you have no idea why he’s important, or why he’s in the movie. It would be like including Tom Bombadil in the Lord of the Rings movies.

So yes, this movie is a mess in every sense of the word. Also, the CGI in certain scenes is… disgracefully bad. Those giants literally do not look finished.