There are a lot of reasons why people probably won’t like the latest Hellboy, and that’s OK. There are plenty of valid reasons not to like it, and I’ll get to those in a minute. But first I’d like to dispel a few of the reasons why people might be predisposed to dislike the film before having seen it; namely, an attachment to the Guillermo del Toro Hellboy films, and their star, Ron Perlman. Personally, I loved 2004’s Hellboy and 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, for all the reasons Kayleigh recently laid out. But I also happen to love Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” comics on which all these adaptations are based, and the thing about adaptations is that, frankly, there is almost never an absolutely definitive one. There shouldn’t be — can’t be! — especially when you’re translating across the gap from page to film. Which also means that there is always room for more translations, more visions of what this comic could look like as a film. Guillermo del Toro put his stamp on Hellboy, but it is still very much his stamp — and as much as we may all love it, it’s OK to acknowledge that his version departed from the source material in a lot of ways. If he’s allowed to play in that sandbox and make it his own, why can’t anyone else?
And as for GdT’s big red galoot of a star, Ron Perlman is admittedly a tough act to follow. He managed to be expressive through all that prosthetic monster make-up in a way that few others have. Part of that may be his, shall we say, rather unique features, and part of that may be because he was working with a director who has made depicting sympathetic monsters on the big screen his calling card. But when it comes to comic book movies, it’s never too soon to give someone else a chance at donning the cape (or horn-nubs). Tobey Maguire’s last outing as Spider-Man was in 2007, and by 2012 it was Andrew Garfield inside that red spandex suit — and by 2016 we’d already moved on to Tom Holland. In the past 30 years Batman has been played by Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck. By those metrics, handing Hellboy’s oversized trench coat to a new actor after 11 years is downright conservative! Obviously it’s our prerogative as filmgoers to prefer one actor’s interpretation of a character over another, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room in the cinematic landscape for more than one Hellboy.
So, once you look beyond the long shadow cast by everything that came before — was all this angst over Hellboy getting an R-rated reboot worth it? Nope! Not even a little. I mean, don’t get me wrong — it’s still not a very good movie, or even a very good Hellboy adaptation. But its problems are unique to itself, and none of them are so insurmountable that I couldn’t enjoy myself along the way. Director Neil Marshall’s particular stamp on the franchise is mostly a bloody splatter of viscera, while screenwriter Andrew Cosby went back to the comics and pulled out a trilogy’s worth of plot involving Arthurian lore, angry witches, fairies, Hellboy’s entire origin, and THE APOCALYPSE, then wove it all into an unintelligible knot. Nothing happens for any discernible reason, but the story doesn’t give you time to question its rationale before speeding along into another action-packed set piece soaked with gore. If anything, this Hellboy reminds me of some of the finest big-budget supernatural thrillers to hit the cineplex in the 1990s — though admittedly that might be because every action sequence included at least one shoddy FX shot that seemed half-finished. Either way, it’s absolutely something I won’t change the channel on when it hits cable in 18 months.
David Harbour’s turn as Hellboy similarly fell prey to that iffy effects work, with his character design seeming to shift from scene to scene as though the whole movie is an extended make-up test for another Hellboy movie down the road. Sometimes he’s so smothered under the prosthetics he may as well be a mannequin, but other times his character comes through loud and clear. And in those moments, he’s actually pretty great. The quips are downplayed and for the most part land, and he nails the brusque hangdog personality of the character. The biggest problem with this iteration of Hellboy isn’t the actor at all, but the script’s insistence on turning the character into a belligerent, tantrum-prone teenager. Hellboy yells at his father-figure (Ian McShane) about HIS DESTINY the way some kids might yell about wanting to go to art school, but we aren’t given enough to really care about this drama. Literally the only person in the movie who seems at all confused about Hellboy’s status as a harbinger of doom is Hellboy himself — everyone else, including the audience, pretty much understands that things dragged from the bowels of Hell by Nazis usually aren’t good, but at least this one’s got free will so what’s all the fuss about? Where del Toro made a meal of the emotional otherness of the character, this film is content to sprinkle empty calories of angst over the lulls between fight scenes like emotional Pop Rocks and move on.
The plot involves a very bad witch named Nimue (Milla Jovovich), who had a plan to unleash a plague on humanity and turn the world into Monster Eden, only King Arthur chopped her up with Excalibur and scattered her bits across England. Fast forward to the present, where two other creatures decide to resurrect her, because… they have beef with Hellboy? Meanwhile, a secret society ALSO has beef with Hellboy, and there are some giants marauding the countryside, but Hellboy sorts all that out. And then he teams up with Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), a spiritual medium who pukes up the dead (not joking even a bit), and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), a tough M11 agent with a secret, to put an end to the reassembled Nimue threat. Only she has other plans once she gets a load of Hellboy’s hot butt or something. If that makes no sense, then trust me — I’m actually streamlining things for the sake of clarity, and it’s actually even MORE nonsensical than I made it sound.
But I have to admit, by the time I hit the giant-hunt scene, I was all in on it. It’s unapologetically TOO MUCH, and even if sometimes the pile-on seems less like a stylistic choice than an attempt to distract us, it kind of works. The action is exciting, the actors are enjoyable, and the overabundance of plot stays breezy rather than boggy. By the end, as I sat through an end-credit sequence that teased a future addition to the team, I realized I wouldn’t actually mind getting another chapter of this Hellboy iteration. Maybe, now that it’s dispensed with Hellboy’s origin and a requisite apocalypse and gotten that GdT-sized chip off its shoulder, there’s room for this universe to slow down and tell some of the weird stories that Mignola’s comic is so well-known for. With plenty of bloody viscera and punching, of course.
Header Image Source: Lionsgate