REVIEW: Hellboy (2019)

A film directed by Neil Marshall

For some reason, I never got around to watching the 2019 Hellboy movie, which was something that I decided to rectify this past weekend. I remember when the movie came out, and people seemed to be absolutely furious for no reason. It was as if Neil Marshall, the director, had walked into some of these fan’s houses and personally shot their dog prior to the film’s release. I mean, sure, everyone wanted the third Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Pearlman film, and anything short of that was destined for disaster. Most would have loved to have seen the cliffhanger at the end of the second Del Toro movie get revisited – seeing Hellboy be a father would have been a really interesting plot point. With there being too much time out from the production of the last movie, no involvement of Del Toro, and the growing age of most of the principal actors involved with the previous two films, it seemed that either a reboot or a non-related movie would be something that they were forced to do. Riding on the success of his role in the hit Netflix show, Stranger Things, David Harbor was pretty hot at the time of the production of this film, and his penchant as the “everyman action guy” seemed to fit the bill for lacing up the big red guy’s leather boots. You slap a bunch of make up on David Harbour, make him do the gravelly voice, and you’ve got Hellboy, So what exactly was the problem?

“Hellboy is a supernatural being who is the son of a fallen angel. He came to our world in 1944 as a result of a mystical ritual. The Occultists of the Third Reich had long tried to gain an advantage in the war, hoping to attract the ideal soldier to the ranks of the fascist army. Hellboy was exactly the one they needed, but they never managed to make their plans a reality. The demon from hell fell into the hands of Americans and began to serve them, protecting the world from mysterious threats. This time he is sent to England to meet face to face with Merlin’s wife. Just a battle with the Blood Queen will lead to the end of the world, which the monster tried to avoid all his life.”

First and foremost, I can sum this up as the following – Nobody wanted this. Fans especially did not want one that was by a different studio and different production staff. Hellboy doesn’t exactly have the household name that something such as Batman or the X-Men would have, you could make a sock puppet show out of one of those franchises and folks would line up around the block to see it. In terms of the comic books, it’s not like most people are even aware that there are numerous comic and animated adaptations of the story out there. To them Hellboy WAS Ron Pearlman, and this was akin to trying to recast Captain Kirk or something. To most people, this film came across like one of those cheap late 90s, early 2000s, direct to video sequels that basically no one wanted. Basic Instinct 2? Hollow Man 2? Roadhouse 2? Bambi 2? All films that were very much beloved at the time of release, that ended up with weird sequels that didn’t have the original cast or overall tone in them. And just like with those films, nobody cared, and those that actually did were furious.

Overall, I actually largely enjoyed this movie despite the fact that it has some serious issues that seem to back up the general weariness of the audience. Firstly, the biggest issue is that there are about twenty too many “origin story” elements peppered throughout the film. Just about every time a new character shows up on the screen, we end up with some sort of laborious flashback where past events are laid out leading up to said characters appearance in the main timeline of the film. You get this for the film’s main villain, Vivienne Nimue, (aka the Blood Queen) as played by Mila Jovovich, right off the bat. Afterwards, pretty much every member of the B.P.R.D. staff, and even Hellboy himself get the same treatment. The inclusion of all of these vignettes basically end up making the movie feel somewhat disjointed, and incredibly bloated. It reminded me of some of the problems I had with the absolutely terrible Joss Whedon-infected version of the DCEU Justice League movie, previously directed by Zack Snyder. Instead of just going ahead and including characters such as The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg etc. that film also decided to have numerous origin stories peppered throughout the beginning of the film, slowing it down to a snail’s pace and largely making the movie feel way longer than it needed to be. Hellboy 2019 is not nearly this egregious, but it suffers a lot of the same issues due to this idea that someone needs somebody to hold their hand in order to make it through the movie without questioning everything about it.

On the plus side, the makeup and special effects in the movie were all pretty good. The R rating that the studio was so adamant to latch onto, really didn’t result in too much more than grizzly monster death scenes, these are numerous and gruesome. I also enjoyed that instead of showcasing characters that we’ve seen in the previous movies, such as Abe Sapien, we get different members of the B.P.R.D. task force being highlighted. The film has a way different version of Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm a.k.a. Hellboy’s “Dad”, Alice Monaghan, and Ben Daimio. The villains were also pretty interesting including an utterly grotesque depiction of the Eastern European folk character, The Baba Yaga, a huge changeling pig man hellbent on killing Hellboy, and the aforementioned Arthurian witch, The Blood Queen.

There are little nuggets of this having the appearance and style of a horror film, much in line with what Guillermo del Toro did in his films, and continuing the style that Neil Marshall is known for. However, this stylistic choice never really is allowed to materialize too much, and it always comes back as being somewhat of a goofy superhero film. I did do further research on the production of this movie and noticed that the director and the producers had a complete falling out in regard to the finished product, and it even appears that the movie was edited around the director’s wishes. It would be interesting to see what the original film would have been like had this not happened, but sadly there is absolutely no demand for any sort of “director’s cut” so this will just be something left to everyone’s imaginations.

In closing, the question arises as to whether I would recommend this film to anyone. My answer is that if you are a fan of the previous two Hellboy movies, or the comics, I bet you would like this for what it is. One caveat is that you have to go at this with the understanding that this is not a sequel to the previous two movies, borrows heavily from a long running comic book series, and tries to adapt them into something entirely new. If you can handle that, it’s pretty interesting at times albeit not super well executed as a whole. Knowing about the shenanigans that happened behind the scenes, it seems like this was somewhat destined for failure right out of the gate. Saddled with a fan base that generally did not want this film, a disinterested public at large that had no idea about any of the characters involved with this, and backstage pandemonium leading to the director asking just short of his name removed from the film (just to name a few issues), means that this was an expensive misstep in the beloved character’s history. I would love to have seen a sequel to this come out, but I know for a fact that is simply not going to happen. Hellboy 2019 was an Okay movie that is a testament to wasted potential, and a possible casualty of the superhero genre over-saturating the market.

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