The original 2004 movie adaptation of Dark Horse comic book series, Hellboy, directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman in the eponymous role, stands as one of the most beloved early successes for the modern superhero movie boom. Despite being followed by a lesser sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008, fan sentiment continually demanded a third movie to round off the planned trilogy of Hellboy movies, which often stopped and started production several times. Eventually however, the planned third Hellboy movie for Perlman and del Toro simply ended up being cancelled, with the Hellboy film rights subsequently returning to Dark Horse Entertainment, and Hellboy comic book creator, Mike Mignola.
Inevitably, Mignola and Dark Horse would then try their hand at an all-new series of Hellboy movies, this time with a new studio, and a new vision. Aiming to be hard R-rated and closer in line with the original Hellboy comic books, 2019’s Hellboy reboot stands firmly apart from the stylings of the previous Perlman/del Toro Hellboy movies, though often for the wrong reasons. Comparisons to the previous duo of live-action Hellboy movies are impossible to avoid, and there’s just no denying that the two previous Hellboy movies overall realized their PG-13 visions better than this reboot managed its R-rated one. Despite a solid lead performance from David Harbour, along with some legitimately great creature make-up in several places, the Hellboy reboot too often feels like a tonally confused mess, ultimately lacking the sophistication and imagination that so often defined both of Guillermo del Toro’s previous Hellboy movies.
At the very least, Harbour’s portrayal of Hellboy himself is an effective one, albeit one that doesn’t quite land with the same level of quirky charm that Perlman’s Hellboy previously delivered in the prior two Hellboy movies. While Perlman’s Hellboy was a seasoned, but lovable veteran of the monster-hunting BPRD, Harbour’s Hellboy feels more impulsive, youthful and rough around the edges. It’s a distinct new performance, and one that Harbour does manage to make work for the most part, particularly when the script gives him an actual funny line to deliver here and there. Too often though, Harbour’s solid Hellboy performance ends up buried in bad dialogue and sloppy storytelling, leaving the potential of his revised Hellboy portrayal largely on the table, rather than fully realized in this reboot.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast doesn’t fare much better. Ian McShane feels like a particular waste here, portraying a new take on Hellboy’s mentor and adoptive father, Professor Broom, and one that’s a far cry from the caring, supportive Broom that was portrayed so well in the former movies by the late John Hurt. McShane’s Broom is far too mean-spirited and unlikable, never effectively justifying exactly why he’s such a bastard to Hellboy in this case. The same is true of Daniel Dae Kim’s angsty soldier boy, Major Ben Daimio, whose main character trait is that he’s not-so-subtly hiding the fact that he transforms into a monster under duress. Finally, Hellboy’s new BPRD ensemble in this reboot is rounded off by Sasha Lane’s Alice Monaghan, a love interest of Hellboy’s in the comics, but in this movie, she’s simply a victim of a childhood fairy kidnapping that somehow gave her the ability to sense and conjure spirits. Because why not? At least this new Hellboy movie offers the small mercy of not scrubbing clean Hellboy’s former, far better-realized allies from the Perlman/del Toro movies with inferior new renditions, but Hellboy’s lacklustre new allies will definitely make you pine for Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, who had both more personality and better character arcs in the previous movies.
The real tragedy among the many problematic characters in the Hellboy reboot however, more so than Harbour’s Hellboy, is the reboot’s supposed villain, Nimue, the so-called, “Blood Queen.” Nimue is portrayed in a surprisingly entertaining turn by Milla Jovovich, who delivers what is, amazingly, one of her most enjoyable performances in any movie to date! Nimue is one of the few characters who actually does manage to mostly nail this movie’s aim of being both horrifyingly twisted and squeamishly humourous, and like Harbour, you’ll wish Jovovich had a far better storyline and set of dialogue to work within. Instead, Nimue feels like she’s awkwardly tossed in amid too many other threats, with her grand plan of creating a world that’s safe for monsters not really managing to gel when the plot is such a mess. At least Harbour and Jovovich share some fun moments on-screen though. It’s just too bad that none of the other characters manage to have the same appeal, and that’s annoying when there’s so many superfluous characters packed into this script!
There’s just no way around it; The script behind this Hellboy reboot is an ungodly mess! There is a germ of an interesting idea behind the storyline at least, namely a morally interpretive conflict wherein Hellboy faces a villain that simply opposes the BPRD because of humanity’s fear of monsters, despite some monsters just wanting to live out their lives in peace. This could have been an interesting idea, but it feels like it’s simply a loose blend of the story premises behind the previous two Hellboy movies, only with more superfluous elements thrown in. The idea of Hellboy struggling with monsters that just want to share the world with humans was also touched upon in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Not only that, but Hellboy being pursued by the villains in order to use him as the destroyer of civilization is also taken directly from the original Hellboy movie of 2004! Are there seriously no other story directions a Hellboy reboot could proceed with?!
Apparently not, leaving us with a disastrously sloppy script that somehow feels like it’s both over-stuffed and under-plotted. The most frustrating points are the sequences wherein this reboot actually manages some entertaining scenes too, since it feels as if it does so by accident. Even worse is that many of the over-stuffed elements and superfluous threats throughout the script feel like they were intentionally put in place to set up a franchise, with the Hellboy reboot quickly sequel-baiting like crazy in a desperate effort to launch a hit new superhero movie series for Lionsgate. The problem is that Hellboy is spending too much time looking ahead, and not enough time building the actual foundation of its proposed franchise designs. Thus, this reboot’s storyline is dead-on-arrival, being so full of confused plotting that audiences will probably completely check out before long.
Hellboy is directed by Neil Marshall, a director who has primarily worked in television, but does have a few feature film credits to his name, specifically Doomsday and Centurion. Some of Marshall’s television work has been pretty prestigious as well! He’s helmed a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones and Black Sails for example, and also has solid genre TV experience from directing episodes of Timeless, Constantine and Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot. In many respects though, Marshall’s directing job with Hellboy is just as uneven and sloppy as the script. Some scenes are realized very well, with an epic and/or creepy scope that nicely combines a creature feature with a dark superhero theme. Much of the time however, Marshall seems to struggle with nailing the reboot’s tone, which veers too wildly between grisly horror and cheeky comedy.
It seems evident that Marshall primarily wants to make Hellboy into a horror movie, begrudgingly suffering through a lot of the sillier bits in the script with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. This is no doubt a case of the franchise creator and the movie director disagreeing on the direction for the reboot, at least in terms of the finer details. This reboot’s initial pitch clearly aims to be closer in tone and style to the more adult-oriented Hellboy comic books, which do incorporate more gore and horror elements than the prior PG-13 movie adaptations do. Marshall just doesn’t seem to manage the careful directing hand that this movie needs though, leading to Hellboy being unable to decide on a consistent vision, and thus quickly collapsing under the weight of its own scattered, inconsistent ideas. The truly entertaining moments in this reboot may be worth slogging to for avid Hellboy fans, but anyone else is just not going to have the patience to get there.
Benjamin Wallfisch composes the soundtrack for the Hellboy reboot, a solid choice on paper, particularly considering Wallfisch’s history of scoring horror movies, which would logically fit with this reboot’s darker pitch. Even better is that Wallfisch recently delivered a standout score for Shazam!, a great comic book adaptation from DC that debuted in theatres just one week before Hellboy did. You’d think that would be a winning recipe, but Wallfisch seems to be another party that’s disagreeing with several other creative forces behind this reboot. It feels like he’s trying to design a score to play up the more light-hearted comic book elements of Hellboy, complete with some licensed musical selections during some of the supposedly zanier scenes, but that appears to clash with the horror-focused direction, and the fantasy-focused script.
The rest of Hellboy’s sound design is similarly uneven, at least when it’s not doing everything in its power to play up the squeamishness behind the gorier scenes. It’s clear that the audio work wants to play up the violence and gore in the reboot as much as possible, with most of the sound mixing highlighting the squishing and squelching of rended flesh whenever it can. The rest of the audio however ranges from appropriately destructive to weirdly cartoon-ish, once again the result of a reboot that just doesn’t seem clear on what it wants to be. You may be able to get a bit of a boost out of shelling out for the more expensive IMAX cut, but in this case, I don’t feel it’s truly worth it to do so. The scope behind the audio or visuals just doesn’t matter when the storytelling is this bad!
As much as Hellboy is rife with storytelling and directing problems, one thing that is at least better realized is its visual suite. Hellboy’s creature make-up manages to be pretty good overall, with this being the one department that does sometimes manage to somewhat keep pace with the prior two Hellboy movies from Guillermo del Toro. The highlight is once again the make-up behind Hellboy himself, who, as I mentioned, looks a little scrappier and rougher in this reboot. Even the set design can be fairly decent at times, capturing some of that heightened comic book atmosphere that Hellboy very clearly wants to present. The atmosphere that Hellboy is going for certainly isn’t non-existent here, even if there are definitely some set pieces and creature designs that are clearly realized better than others.
As for the rest of the special effects, they’re nothing to write home about. Hellboy at least mercifully avoids the desire to force a pointless 3D conversion that it clearly wouldn’t benefit from, but even if you shell out for an IMAX upgrade, the special effects just don’t keep pace with most other high-profile comic book movies of the modern era. Some of the effects are fine, but Hellboy was very clearly made on the cheap, and you’ll definitely notice that when you witness a lot of this movie’s woefully bad CGI effects in particular. This is most frustrating when this reboot puts together otherwise imaginative scenes that would have worked a whole lot better, had they been backed by a better script and a bigger budget. As it stands however, Hellboy’s visual effects just don’t cut it, even compared to its two predecessors, who are both over a decade old at this point! It’s definitely not a good look for a movie reboot when it mostly looks worse than the prior cinematic incarnation of the franchise that was realized over ten years ago!
In most respects, Hellboy feels like 2019’s version of Venom, if Venom had actually committed to its initially-proposed R-rating. Like Venom, Hellboy has entertaining moments, and it’s at least carried by a great lead performance for the titular hero. Also like Venom however, Hellboy is ultimately a huge mess that’s routinely ruined by a lacklustre script, one made even worse by the delusion that this cheaply-produced, disappointingly cynical reboot would have any chance of setting up a franchise!
In hindsight, Venom also very blatantly aimed to set up a new franchise for Sony Pictures, complete with its own shared Marvel Universe of Sony-owned Marvel characters spun off from the studio’s Spider-Man film rights. Venom however at least made sure to do what it could to stand alone, with semi-competent direction, and a story that was mostly easy to follow, without constantly beating you over the head with setups for the other Marvel-licensed movies that Sony clearly wants to make. Hellboy however tosses in everything and the kitchen sink, which quickly renders its storyline unfocused and impossible to invest in, and that’s before considering the wildly inconsistent tone that leaves this reboot unable to commit to being a horror movie for gorehounds, or a superhero movie for genre enthusiasts.
It’s truly crushing to see what a disappointing final product this Hellboy reboot is. The original pair of Hellboy movies were so enjoyable, yet were never able to realize their planned third installment, due to funding difficulties with former Hellboy film rights holder, Revolution Studios. This reboot could have at least been an acceptable consolation prize, but if this rancid pool is all that’s left in the Hellboy movie well, then Big Red should have just stayed retired from the silver screen.
- Harbour is a pretty good Hellboy
- Some really great creature makeup
- Some enjoyable monster scenes, particularly with Jovovich's Nimue
- Disastrous script full of poor dialogue and messy plotting
- Confused direction never manages a consistent tone
- Needlessly cynical and mean-spirited