What the HELLBOY? Neil Marshall’s vision for Big Red’s reboot is rough – review by Mark Walters

What the HELLBOY? Neil Marshall’s vision for Big Red’s reboot is rough – review by Mark Walters

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I hate writing bad reviews for film I really wanted to like, but sometimes it happens, and in the case of the new HELLBOY movie… it’s kind of unavoidable. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has long been one of my favorite comic book characters, and I very much enjoyed the Guillermo del Toro films made in which Ron Perlman portrayed Big Red. It’s safe to say comic book fans got what they were going for, but the movies never seemed to find the right audience in theaters, showing only moderate success despite a lot of effort going into them. Now there’s a new version of HELLBOY hitting theaters this weekend, with Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT) in the director chair and STRANGER THINGS star David Harbour playing the title role. They’ve been saying how this reboot is supposed to be much darker and bloodier, yet the trailers seemed kinda silly at times, playing up the comedy aspects more than I expected they would. The cast, however, is pretty cool, featuring Milla Jovovich as the villain, and Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim and Sasha Lane in supporting roles.

The new film opens with a big time flashback, all the way to the King Arthur era, in which the famous knight defeats the evil Blood Queen, Nimue (Jovovich), dismembering her body and sending the various pieces across the land after being sealed in boxes by Merlin… it’s a graphic and bloody opening, letting the audience know this is not the PG-13 Hellboy they’re used to on the big screen. All of this is set up for the villainess to make her inevitable return. Cut to present day, and Hellboy (Harbour) is looking for his co-worked friend and drinking buddy who is for some reason killing time in a Mexican wresting ring. As HB tries to talk him into returning home, he realizes his pal is no longer human, and must fight him to the death. This is meant to illustrate how our hero spends his days on missions like these, killing “monsters” like himself while always having to return to his leaders. And those leaders are the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense), a Men In Black-like organization led by Professor Broom (Ian McShane) with the purpose of policing anything weird that ends up on earth. Broom is a “father” to Hellboy as he found him during World War II, the surprising result of Nazi experiment. While HB just wants to mourn his friend, there isn’t time as The Blood Queen is being reassembled by one of her minions, and could soon destroy the world unless she’s stopped. Hellboy is joined by B.P.R.D. agent Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) and an old acquaintance Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) who has supernatural seance powers.

The first thing you notice in this new HELLBOY movie is how it looks, which is sad to say rather cheap. The Guillermo del Toro HELLBOY films were oozing with style and polish, but the new production looks drab and uninspired, with bland locations and basic-looking clothing to boot. There’s a lot of CGI creatures spread throughout, yet they feel like more of an afterthought when compared to the surroundings they’re placed in. There are some scenes that almost get it right, particularly a flashback WWII sequence in which Hellboy is first discovered, featuring comic book-style Nazis sporting costumes that are obviously taken directly from Mike Mignola’s comic book designs, and that sequence also features a quick cameo by Thomas Haden Church as “Lobster Johnson” – a sort of older and darker take on the Captain America concept, and it’s safe to say that entire scene is one of the best in the film. But the rest of the movie is pretty choppy, with Hellboy constantly going to the next location, meeting a weird character, then fighting that character, and then repeating this trope like a by-the-numbers video game. It doesn’t flow well, and the two-hour plus run time does overstay its welcome a bit in the final act. There’s even a scene at the end of the film that’s basically an action-packed music video filled with fighting and gunplay… I can’t help but wonder if the studio insisted this scene be added at the last second to leave the audience with a bang, since the rest of the film wasn’t quite cutting it.

David Harbour is a worthy-enough successor to Ron Perlman, and tries to put his own spin on the character, at times making him a little more human and sympathetic, but he’s one of the only bright spots of the film. He looks good and sounds good, and handles the action sequences well enough, but suffers from the wonky script and lackluster supporting characters. Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim try their best to play the sidekick personalities in interesting ways, but they just feel like pale comparisons to the roles we saw in Guillermo’s versions. Instead of the telepathic Abe Sapien, we get the spiritually gifted but quite normal-looking Alice, who can channel the dead as creepy ghost snakes emanating from her mouth, and literally punch spirits out of undead attackers. Instead of the fire-powered Liz Sherman, we get Major Daimio, who has a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. They’re not bad supporting characters, they’re just not as cool as what came before. Even Ian McShane as Professor Broom isn’t as likable or endearing as what John Hurt did in the role previously. And Milla Jovovich’s villain never feels fleshed out the way she should have been, to the point of where you don’t feel emotionally invested enough to care what happens to her at the end. Then there’s the comedic beats, which are frequent but feel awkward in the hands of director Neil Marshall. This is a man who has proven himself more than capable when handling horror and action sequences, but the funny moments here never quite land the way they should, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s just a case where he as a director just didn’t quite get the material, or at the very least couldn’t find a way to stick the landing.

The new HELLBOY isn’t necessarily a bad comic book movie, but it could have been so much more. The end result feels like a competently enough made fan film more than a legit big budget production, or perhaps an adequate comic book movie from the late 1990s (think BARB WIRE, only slightly better). The score by Benjamin Wallfisch (SHAZAM!, BLADE RUNNER 2049) is one of the high points of the film, but the screenplay by Andrew Cosby along with Neil Marshall’s lack of enthusiasm behind the camera keeps this from ever going anywhere special. The R-rating gives them more freedom on the blood and gore, but even that feels excessive at times, like it’s there just because it can be, not because it should be. This is actually the third movie studio to tackle the HELLBOY franchise, which again indicates that while the character is an enduring fan favorite, Hollywood just can’t seem to get it exactly right. In my opinion, Guillermo came very close, and now more than ever I wish they had let him make his third outing with Perlman back in the lead. Sadly, this new effort not only killed those chances, it may have killed the character’s big screen possibilities for a while. I feel bad for Mike Mignola (who I respect immensely), as his character has so much promise in it, and really does deserve a proper movie adaptation… perhaps one day, in the future, it will get another chance. If you do see this one, stick around for two credit scenes, one in the middle that is exceptionally satisfying, and another at the end that will just leave you scratching your head.

HELLBOY opens in theaters and IMAX on April 12, 2019

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.