I’m a huge fan of the Hellboy franchise. The two prior films were really enjoyable and lately I’ve dove into the comic books as well and there’s a lot to love there. We’ve been waiting for the third film to end the trilogy but instead the franchise has been rebooted with a new cast, so folks are pretty hesitant. Let’s discuss how it turned out.
Our movie follows Hellboy (David Harbour, Stranger Things), a half-demon creature that was summoned to our world many years ago as a baby. He’s grown up, now an agent of a paranormal police force called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD) under the guidance of his adoptive father (Ian McShane). Things are getting grim as an ancient evil called Nimue (or “The Blood Queen”, played by Milla Jovovich) is coming back to power and seeks to use Hellboy’s immense potential for her own gain.
Teaming up with Hellboy to stop this threat is Alice (Sasha Lane), a girl once kidnapped by fairies and given psychic abilities, and military leader Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim, Lost), who has a dark secret he’s keeping from the team.
I’m a sucker for this world, so it’s always cool to see little nods to this mythology. The problem with this movie though is that maybe it crams in too much. Our opening few sequences literally send Hellboy around the world, dealing with disparate issues and it seems like it’s just fan-service. But if you’re looking for exact comic-to-screen translations, this has a lot of it. It’s packed with world building, though it’s not always explained to people that maybe aren’t in the know already.
Some of the imagery and moments in this film are fantastic. The first half feels a little more cookie-cutter fantasy, whereas the second half feels like a horror apocalypse film, full of some intense and visceral violence. The creature design is really unique, though I wish the movie had embraced more physical effects as opposed to CGI, which isn’t always polished.
What doesn’t work?
This movie is jam-packed, which causes a lot of problems. Hellboy’s quest (and his enemies) are all over the place. Yes, this Blood Queen seems to be rising to power, but there’s also a subplot about a boar-man who feels slighted by Hellboy and wants revenge. We also get a subplot of a slavic demon called the Baba Yaga who Hellboy must contend with. Oh, and there’s a vampire infestation in Mexico. Oh, and there’s a trio of giants terrorizing English countrysides. It’s a lot. And to explain each of these, we get a huge exposition dump and ultimately we’re left wondering which of these encounters really matter to the film (and as I recount them, most of them don’t matter at all).
The first Hellboy film from 2004 was intended for newcomers to this world, so it spends a lot of time showing you the world of Hellboy and extensive backstory, to give you context. The plot was simple. Here… This movie gets halfway through before we really see Hellboy’s origin (and even then, it’s a minimal tale). It seems to be assuming that you know the story, which I don’t believe is the case for most folks in the audience.
Since this movie has so many monsters and terrifying creatures, you would hope to see some pretty amazing visuals. Unfortunately that’s not the case. A few things stand out in a positive way, including an insane fight sequence with the twisted old crone, the Baba Yaga. Most of our creatures though, look like they were from 2004 themselves. The effects look unpolished and messy. Again, there’s a reliance on computer-generated visual effects, even though several of these monsters could have been physical effects instead.
I want to touch on the humor here. Hellboy, as a character, is witty and dry. This script however mismanages his humor, also while turning the character into a whiny teenager. There’s a huge subplot about him arguing with his dad, over and over. Ultimately, Hellboy doesn’t feel very likable, and that’s a major problem. Harbour doesn’t give us the charm that Perlman was able to deliver in the past films. I don’t know if I blame Harbour, but rather the script he was given.
This movie is unfortunately a mixed bag. If you’re unfamiliar, there may be some cool concepts here, but the movie doesn’t explain anything to the already uninformed. It speeds right into the action and delivers more monsters than you’ll know what to do with. These monsters are interestingly designed but horribly executed, with dated CGI effects and little motivation. David Harbour misses the mark as Hellboy, but I blame a weak script for not giving us more insight into Hellboy other than his daddy issues. There may be fun to have here, but I think we’d all agree this is not a good movie.