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.