There has been a lot of hype about David Harbour’s Hellboy, even way before the film hit the theaters. With the “original Hellboy”, Ron Perlman being outrageously vocal about Harbour’s version, it’s quite hard for the new film to slip under the radar. But with the trailer released, Harbour’s Hellboy did look surprisingly promising, with a mesmerizing dark color palette that sucks you in, and finished in an R-rating no less. I’m sure some fans would even wonder, what was Ron that unhappy about? Perhaps he was just overly insecure? I wish I can answer that in this review, but quite frankly it’s not that straightforward. Even the former Hellboy himself is not sure how to react to the film.
In case you missed out, unlike Ron’s Hellboy, the current film is not for the faint-hearted. There aren’t many films that welcome you to the party with a beheading scene, but I guess that’s just how it works in Harbour’s Hellboy. There is never an instance where there is shortage of blood in the film, and I can attest to that. Just don’t take a big meal before heading for Hellboy. Because, believe me, after the first splatter of blood, things really get worse and, creative, even, from there onwards. Depending on what you had for your last meal, there are a thousand and more (bad) things which you can relate to your food, be it oozing gravy-kind-of blood from a stinky giant, or splattering brain from a split human head. Rest assured, you’re stomach isn’t going to be happy.
The film is supposed to be a reboot of the series done by Guillermo del Toro, but it doesn’t quite feel like it. Perhaps it’s the way Hellboy starts off, which carries on from the point that the titular character is already a fully grown, muscle-packed, long-haired, seasoned paranormal investigator. It didn’t take off from the moment when Hellboy was just a sun-burnt, hairless baby monkey with a concrete slab on one of his hands. At least, that is what it looks to me. To the masses, it might even be mistaken as the continuation of del Toro’s Hellboy with a brand new cast line-up.
Hellboy starts off his day (or night) by locating a fellow missing agent, who has now been spotted in Mexico. Suffice to say that things don’t always end well or straightforward for Hellboy (David Harbour), as his ex-team mate, Ruiz, is visible possessed and is not himself anymore. Before the present time frame, the audience learned that during King Arthur’s days, there used to be a violent witch dubbed Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), whose name is Vivian Nimue (pronounced as Neem-way).
King Arthur (yes, THE King Arthur. Noticed anything wrong with my tone?) managed to stop Nimue and hide her remains in distance places to prevent her from being resurrected again. Those scenes are narrated by Ian McShane nonetheless, and hearing him mentioning ‘THE King Arthur’ really raised my doubt about the confidence level of the writers. Was there another King Arthur in China or perhaps one in India?
McShane also played Trevor Bruttenholm, Hellboy’s “Dad” and leader of the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defencse). Alongside teenage witch Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and battle-hardened, mysterious fellow BPRD member, Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), Hellboy unwillingly fights through evil and monsters alike to prevent the resurrection of Blood Queen, while being forced to meddle with his confusing past and haunting destiny.
The very first moment that the camera focused on Harbour’s Hellboy in his full glory, my brain automatically pits him against Ron Perlman‘s version and analyze them like a supercomputer. Well, sort-of like a supercomputer, because Hellboy: The Golden Army was released 11 years ago, and I don’t have a millimeter-accurate scan of Ron’s Hellboy imprinted in my mind. Right away, Harbour’s Hellboy looks more devilish and intimidating, it makes Ron’s Hellboy look like an end-result of a beauty cam. The filed horns are bigger and more realistic, as with his Right Hand of Doom. His body build is about the same as Ron’s, but the addition of body hair is a nasty but visually complementing element.
Having seen the new Hellboy in action for almost two hours, I can attest that the new kid on the block does not let us down from the visual perspective. That said, though it might be subjective, I still opine that Harbour’s ‘loud’ performance is a solid incorporation to the already impressive looking BPRD mascot. After all, supposedly Hellboy’s inner demon is no less subtle than his appearance, and you will soon realize that Harbour’s Hellboy appears to be more rage-filled and confused than Ron’s version by many folds.
If there is one thing that Hellboy absolutely nailed it, it definitely has to be the visual department, and by large the team behind each and every practical effect that supercharged the film. One can always argue that the gore in Hellboy is way overdone and unnecessary, to which I somehow agree. Yes, what’s shown on screen in Hellboycan be ruthless and cruel, which sometimes even include scenes of humans getting slaughtered like animals, even eaten alive. Still, it is undeniable that Hellboy simply excelled in making realistic scenes of bodies being littered around after the location is being torn apart by monsters. Those certainly look like they came out from your after-dinner news channel rather than within a fictional film.
And with a combination of CGI and practical effects, almost all the characters are brought on screen with utmost realism, including the likes of Baba Yaga and Gruagach. The color palette of the entire film was just spot-on and visually pleasing. All I remembered was seeing three colors; black, grey and red, and it is astonishing how much the studio can visually achieve by playing around mainly with these colors.
At this juncture, if you would have expected that based on the visually impressive nature of Hellboy, the film would have gotten a ten out of ten, then, it is with great regret that I have to let you down. Beneath those individually good looking frames, lies a catastrophic plot and numb dialogue scripts. Most of the cast eventually fell victim to the tasteless and senseless dialogues. The ones that did not, are either extras or characters that don’t have any lines. Perhaps the director should have tossed the dialogue scripts into the flames of hell and never look back.
It’s such a painful undone to the great character depth projected out by the casts, especially Harbour, McShane and Daniel Dae Kim. Dae Kim’s gaze and tonality of his speech alone overshadowed the pointless script that he had to constantly endure and utter out. Couple that with the persistently abusive, blasting soundtracks which were being randomly played, even when Hellboy was just cruising towards his destination, I started to wonder if a pair of earplugs could have made my Hellboy experience that much better.
In opposite to Harbour and Dae Kim, Milla Jovovich’s portrayal of Blood Queen Nimue was just okay. Well, it’s less than okay, because in-film, she lacks any aura of a truly powerful, cold-blooded sorceress. As an audience, I was having a hard time trying to look for any sound reason why I should be fearful of her, and I’m pretty sure that you will, too. She is a lot less eerie and deadly than what I have anticipated, and together with her smooth-as-porcelain complexion and her cleavage-heavy wardrobe treatment, she ended up leaning towards the spectrum of an eye candy rather than a true villain.
Oh yes, speaking of cleavage, Hellboy as a whole is no less sexually exploitative. Yes, it gets funny and sometimes, a little unsettling with the ever-present cleavage of Nimue. But Baba Yaga’s? It is now reaching an astronomical level of sexual fantasy. Just ask anyone who has watched the film about the one and only kissing scene in Hellboy, and observe how their faces quickly turn to disgust.
Maybe that is just one of the pieces that leads to the primary issue of Hellboy. The writer doesn’t really care about how the audience will feel. He was so possessed with his own fantasies, that he just want to make it live on forever in the big screen. And the result? A razor-thin plot that doesn’t quite make sense, that constantly catapults the audience to various locations and points with warp speed. The clutter and mess created by the plot contradicts deeply with the boring and stale dialogue, and blends into a concoction of cringe-worthy doomsday tale that even fans of Hellboy wouldn’t proudly associate themselves with.
And then, you have that immense story detour that links back to THE King Arthur, and his magical sword, Excalibur. For me, that is perhaps the final seal to the fate, not of Nimue’s, but of the film itself. If one can learn from Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), he will know that you can’t simply make any film a King Arthur’s film, unless you’re actually making a King Arthur film. Even then, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) bombed miserably.
Addict Verdict, AV:
The current Hellboy is definitely one hideously cool-looking demon, and the film is certainly blessed with impressive visuals and realistic practical effects plus CGI. But, at the same time, it is perpetually cursed with an outrageous, bombastic and clueless plot, tagged along by numb dialogue scripts. Together, those factors eclipsed the rather strong performance by Harbour, McShane and Dae Kim collectively, and neutralized any chemistry born from their collaboration. Maybe Ron was right. It should have been Hellboy 3, after all — The Film Addict
*This review was originally published on The Film Addict