The rebooted “Hellboy” starts off with a voiceover by Ian McShane. Laying out the evil that Hellboy will be facing in this film, this opening feels absurdly rushed, as though McShane couldn’t wait to be done reading it, finish this job, and move on with his life. Either that, or it is simply raced through in order to fit with the rest of the movie. Directed by Neil Marshall with a screenplay by Andrew Crosby, this “Hellboy” is a hurried mess, one that is not interested in telling a cohesive story, nor offering up impressive action sequences, nor getting at the truth of its characters.
David Harbour stars as the titular Hellboy here, and he is appropriately large and menacing on screen. There is a world-weariness to the character which is enticing. Less enticing though is the film’s weird vacillation between ignoring the character’s origins and being completely obsessed with them. That is to say that over the course of the movie, we learn that Hellboy doesn’t know how he came to be or how he came to live with the man he calls “Dad,” Professor Broom (McShane). This lack of history seems like it should be important when the character is introduced, but it is completely ignored at that moment. It then becomes momentarily all-consuming until, like every other idea in the film, it is minimized in favor of some fizzling action sequences.
There is little in “Hellboy” that unfolds with any sort of logic. There is undeniably the feel that all the answers exist elsewhere and that those who are already familiar with the material will be able to fill in the chasms of missing story and, perhaps, logic, but those who are going to the movie to see a complete tale will be utterly rattled.
This is a movie where, when the world is about to end due to the rebirth of The Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), two different militaristic (seemingly) government organizations who have soldiers to spare opt to not bother sending those soldiers. That’s right, rather than throwing bodies at the problem (as we see them do more than once in the movie), they instead send Hellboy; his friend who has never dealt with such things but is a medium, Alice (Sasha Lane); and an ex-soldier/current secret agent, Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), to deal with Nimue.
Why only go in with three people when we already know that these organizations, the apparently American BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and potentially British M-11, have well-equipped soldiers? Presumably to make things more dramatic. It doesn’t, it just makes it silly.
“Hellboy” is an R-rated comic book adaptation, one with scads of blood, but like this battle against Nimue, the red liquid spewing everywhere lacks power. Mediocre CG is abundant, rarely convincing the audience when blood spews that it is remotely real. The massive creatures and various killings have the same rather too fake look to them.
At some point the film’s obsession with people getting poked, or having been poked, in the eye goes from vaguely disgusting to Three Stooges comedy. Why some many references? One would be hard-pressed to argue that the film is attempting to discuss Hellboy’s blindness towards his past or offer some other deep, philosophical, argument. Instead, it feels like it’s there in order to up the gross factor. It doesn’t.
The film’s many issues are made worse by Marshall’s shaky camera shots and quick cuts (the film’s credited director of photography is Lorenzo Senatore although TheWrap has a story on behind the scenes changes). It is not just impossible to tell what is happening during fight sequences, one stops caring to even try to work it out. A couple of times in the film, Marshall opts to go for a fight like the casino battle in “Black Panther,” with a series of shots meant to look like a single continuous one. Unlike the sequence in “Black Panther,” it completely fails here. There is no sense of scale or amazement at the battles Hellboy faces, and these moments are again plagued by an unsteady camera that rarely seems to be in the optimum position to depict what is going on.
In short, the film we are offered here is an exceptionally frustrating one. It feels like a half-dozen, or more, semi-explored plots are used and then discarded at will. The action sequences are a mess. The CG work is disappointing. The relationships between the characters are nonsensical.
Finally, perhaps most importantly, the moral battle that Hellboy faces, the moment where we are most supposed to understand who he is, what he is doing, and why he is tempted by darkness is a mere fleeting glance at an actual conundrum. It is a bit of lip service used to seemingly raise the stakes in the film and make it all the more personal for our hero. But, because the hero is never well-established, the questions of his past are brought up in the most confusing of fashions, and his ultimate decision in the climactic moment doesn’t seem all that difficult, this moral issue completely fails in its goal – the end of the world was already quite enough.
Unsurprisingly, “Hellboy” also promises its audience a sequel, or perhaps two sequels, or maybe even three sequels, before the lights finally come up in the theater and this, too, is just as ill-conceived as the rest of the movie. It is more of the same – an apparently all-too-rushed attempt to throw as much as possible on the wall to see what, if anything, sticks. Nothing here, save maybe Harbour’s world-weary sullenness, does.
Skip this version of the tale, they’re sure to reboot it eventually (again).
photo credit: Lionsgate