Reboots are often a dirty word in today’s movie community. Except in rare cases, they’re often seen as a cash grab in order to make money off a known property rather than give a chance to a new property. This is especially true when the original is beloved by many fans as is the case with Hellboy. While the first two movies didn’t garner huge box office numbers, they remain a well loved pair of films with plenty of support given to director Guillermo del Toro’s unique vision of the comic book world and the great cast. This time around the director is not nearly as much of a visionary and turns the interesting world of Hellboy into a world full of gore and swearing more akin to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters than what you might expect from a Hellboy movie. And while I wasn’t expecting a whole lot considering the lack of early reviews and those that came out days before release were pretty awful, I still gave it a chance and while the movie as a whole failed, at least the heroes were characters that I could get behind and I still had fun with the movie. And as usual with new movies, this review contains spoilers so read on if you’ve already seen the movie, or don’t care.
What this movie gets right is David Harbour’s Hellboy himself. He’s not quite the same as Ron Perlman, but he’s pretty damn close. He doesn’t quite have the same amount of joviality, but that’s mostly due to the writing and there’s still the childlike adolescence to him. They also toned down the blue collar nature of the character in favor of a guy who’s simply used to all of this crazyness. The one good change is that he has a bit more depth and vulnerability to him and it’s taken more seriously than Perlman’s jealousy over Liz. The film opens with Hellboy having to take out an agent who’s become a demonic vampire posing as a Mexican luchador and the film has the right mix of naivete and sympathy as Hellboy drowns his sorrows getting wasted at a bar.
It’s difficult to look at this film on its own without comparing it to Guillermo del Toro’s version and while it’s not exactly fair, there’s no denying that it’s trying to do something different. There is a false equivalency between more gore and violence to being a more grown up story. This film is filled to the brim with violence and gore. From the main antagonist Nimue played by Milla Jovovich being dismembered in an early scene to dozens of people being horribly mutilated by various demonic and/or fantasy creatures. The designs for the creatures are extremely different from the previous two movies, going for a more pure CGI look to them, but also the character designs themselves feel a bit more generic when it comes to the fantasy creatures like the fairies and the changeling, and while the demons from hell are much more unique and interesting, they’re also barely on screen and suffer from being mediocre CGI. The biggest issue with the gore is that it’s so pervasive throughout the film that it loses its impact. After a certain point, it’s not shocking, it’s not scary, it’s not even used for over-the-top shock humor, it just gets numbing very quickly.
Where the film does succeed to a certain point is with its characters. Besides Hellboy, we also get two new BPRD candidates. First off we have Alice played by Sasha Lane, she’s a powerful psychic medium and is the typical “takes no BS from anyone” and just rolls with whatever is going on around her. She also is able to knock out zombies with her fists and conjure the recently dead by summoning them as a sludgy ghost slug coming out of her mouth. We also have Major Daimio played by Daniel Day Kim who eventually turns out to be a were-leopard and is the by-the-book military guy who initially plans on taking out Hellboy before he becomes the cause of the apocalypse. The one slight downside is Ian McShane’s Professor Broom which once again falls back on how difficult it is to change from the previous incarnation without falling short. He’s no John Hurt and it’s difficult to see him be more of a distant and harsh parent to Hellboy, having him learn through fire and difficulties. We still get a sense of the love between the two, but it’s a more contentious love.
As for the villains, the ones we spend the most time with is the pig-faced changeling Guagach with a thick Celtic accent. He’s generally the comic relief as he goes around killing anything and everything while he has a standard grudge against Hellboy for catching him as a baby. He looks pretty great, but there’s just not really much to him despite the attempt when we learn how he longed for a normal life. And the longing for a normal life extends to the temptation of Jovovich’s witch Nimue as she is put together literally in order to bring a plague to humankind and allow the fae/demonic kind to roam free once again. She also uses this to try and tempt Hellboy to become her king to bring demons from hell by wielding Excalibur because he’s also the last direct descendant of King Arthur because of course he is. It’s just a little too much thrown together on top of yet another witch Baba Yaga who pops into the movie in a couple brief scenes as basically a combination of exposition and the creep factor with her horribly scarred face and crabwalk style of fighting.
Really, the biggest issue with this movie is lack of a clear direction. There’s just too much thrown at the wall in this movie. Besides the Blood Queen, the pig man, and the crooked witch, we also have the vampire luchador, three giants, a secret society, a group of priests and their vow of silence, the King Arthur legend, zombies, fairies, and the rehash of Hellboy’s origin with pale imitations/callbacks/homages to Rasputin and Kroenen despite the introduction to the other great character Lobster Johnson. The film had way too many flashbacks that it distracted from the main narrative that was also all over the place. Every character had their own little “let me tell you about my backstory” and we get to sit back and watch it happen via flashback. The structure was all over the place and it was just too muddled to really be very cohesive. And while it may sound like I’m pointing out all of the negatives, there is still some fun to be had if you can let go or have never seen the del Toro version. It’s messy, it’s not very good, but the main characters help pull things through. The action, while unnecessarily gory, is still well done and the music is fun without being overly needle-drop-y outside of a couple moments. This isn’t the next big superhero franchise, but I don’t regret watching it. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.