Magical. Cool. Whimsical. An adult children’s film that made you feel your age, yet made you yearn for your youth. These are the qualities of Guillermo Del Toro’s original Hellboy films.
These are not aspects of Neil Marshall’s reboot. There is no generation of splendor, here. We kick off with a near-spoof narration of yesteryear that rushes as quickly as a grade five book report, where the kid giving said assignment has to go to the bathroom. Bam. We’re in the present day, now. Hellboy himself spouts out exposition within a wrestling match in a way that insists you know the source material (or were listening to all of this half hearted dialogue writing underneath the noise).
This world looks great. Hellboy, aside from initial promotional teasers, actually looks alright. David Harbour is terrific as the titular demonic entity. The kicker is the film loves to pace forwards at all costs. There are occasional moments where we sit and enjoy all of the hard work put into the world creation. Otherwise, this is a drive-thru meal that was consumed in the same line up: a quick feast that feels about as fulfilling as missing your face with the water bottle after a brisk jog.
Things actually start off kind of decently (after the brutal opening ten minutes, of course). When Sophie Okendo’s Lady Hatton appears to give a better backstory to the film (what was the point of the headache inducing epilogue then?), you feel a bit more optimistic about the film. It takes its time. Her voice is dominating. Her presence is a shining beacon compared to the rest of the film thus far (outside of Harbour’s best efforts, of course). Hellboy goes through the 007 weapon description process all possessors of new contraband require, and we’re set.
Set to blast into a horse riding scene with Dragonforce lite music, and it’s the goofiest thing. Then we see Hellboy is caught in a trap, and it feels like the final act of a film (or at least the second act’s collapse). Right after is a darkly comedic exchange featuring a monologue about the superficial world (given by Milla Jovovich). That’s when it hits. That one decent scene, sandwiched in between a terrible opening and a confusing ending, is a sign of things to come. There is no actual cinematic identity here. We are only half an hour in, and Hellboy has absolutely no idea what kind of tone it wishes to have. The only confidence it has, is with its gore. When Logan utilized heaps of bloody limbs and corpses, it was to emphasize the finality of this story in a post apocalyptic world. Deadpool was meant to be a savage, edgy movie from the get go. Hellboy is trying to be a tale of damnation (with Hellboy’s backstory and constant torture), and it has stupid one-liners and tankers full of blood. Is this meant to be a wild ride, or a sympathetic tale? It can be both, but Hellboy can’t figure out how, because it goes all in with every aspect. Every joke is eye roll worthy. Every fight is a hard R rating. The sadder moments are too frequent to be so damn heavy, in a film that’s trying to be careless fun at the same time.
The meat and potatoes of Hellboy feel like video game cut scenes. They stick out like a sore thumb in between the quips, pop culture songs and gallons upon gallons of crimson, circulatory discharge. Hellboy isn’t quite as try-hard as Suicide Squad was years before, but it does share some of the same irritating superficialities. There’s no personal story to tell. There’s a series of films to mimic. Del Toro’s iterations felt like his own personal vision, sewn together by his own signature perspective. They are flawed, but they carry quite a punch, and it is easily understandable when people bring up this pair of films as being shining examples of comic book films. Hellboy (2019) is a reboot that is trying to be a part of the zeitgeist. There’s no broken ground here. There have been better comic book films that are gory. There have been funnier comic book films. More intense. Heavier. Sleeker.
Hellboy tries to be everything, perhaps as to not let down any patient fans (or interested newcomers). It instead feels like my Myspace profile while I was in high school: a collage of scary images, graphic content, swear words, jokes, and the embedded musical playlist that takes forever for you to shut off. Again, it’s not Suicide Squad bad, but it shouldn’t have been this close.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.