Starring David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim. Directed by Neil Marshall.
Reboots are nothing new, and they’re just going to keep going, either mining new ground in a field or doing the same thing, hoping time will be the reason it works better now. Eleven years ago, Two-time Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro released his follow up to 2004 minor hit Hellboy with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Del Toro had always said he knew where the third and final film would take him, but for whatever reasons it never happened – neither Hellboy nor Hellboy 2 set the box office alight. Hellboy had poor marketing, and Hellboy 2 came out two weeks after The Dark Knight.
After trying to resurrect the project before giving up and moving on to other things, the decision was made to reboot Hellboy in a more dark and R Rated (15 over here in the UK) direction. Hellboy has always been a fantasy series, based in the mystic, melding new ideas of fantasy and some well-worn ones, and while there was never a hunger for a new take, hiring Neill Marshall – The Descent, Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, Centurian (and some great Game of Thrones episodes) – is a good call for directing.
This new Hellboy follows the titular stone handed everyman who happens to be the bringer of doom, as he travels to England, apparently to help a secret society fight trolls until a wider threat comes in the form of The Blood Queen, an ancient witch who seeks to bring about the end of days.
From the off, Marshall doesn’t really set his bar that high. Considering the fact that, with the older age rating, you could have a comic book movie tinged with horror (Del Toro’s own Blade II), or with deeper themes (Logan) or big dumb fun (Deadpool), Hellboy doesn’t manage to achieve any of these things. Instead, Marshall throws swear words and bloody violence around the place as if it’ll mask the film’s own lack of ambition.
It’s impossible not to lament the loss of Del Toro and his creative vision when looking at the new film. Del Toro was a creative force of nature, every film of his looked beautiful with creatures and designs from his own head that just filled you with wonder. Looking at his original two films the creatures leap out – Samael, The Chamberlain, The Angel of Death, Tooth Fairies, all of these creatures looked amazing. Here the monsters are very standard-issue CGI messes.
While David Harbour makes for a great everyman in a similar way to Ron Perlman (though RP was probably born to play the role of Hellboy), he lacks the kind of childlike charm of Perlman. Harbour’s Hellboy has a harsher face, nastier teeth, a meaner edge that at times makes him hard to engage with. While the original Hellboy was a love story between big red and Liz Sherman, we have a Hellboy filled with teenage angst.
The cast around Harbour are worse for ware, Ian McShane does good gruff guy, but holds no candle to his old pal John Hurt as Broom, his version again is less likeable and meaner, lacking the older more refined elegance of Hurt’s portrayal. While Daniel Dae Kim and Sasha Lane do bad English Accents and resort to the kind of American-written Brit dialogue which means calling people slags or wankers and referring to privates as todgers.
Worst of all is Milla Jovovich as the Blood Queen, perhaps cast because of her turns in Resident Evil, not only is she bland, but at times painfully wooden. Jovovich lacks the kind of star appeal of Angelina Jolie, or even the mesmerising charm of Eva Green and doesn’t have any threat to her. Despite being involved in a fun Arthurian legend prologue.
There is also nothing particularly good about the storytelling, which is badly done. Every character gets an origin flashback which means the film is forever stopping for a side story before going back to business, and even when it’s in story mode it’s a slog to get through. A vampire beat down in Mexico leads to a troll hunt ambush in the English countryside to woodland monster brawls but nothing ever kicks into gear. It’s clear the writers have mashed together four or five comic books and tried to make it work.
Worst of all is the bad use of music, while a film like Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy did it well, here it seems like the original score wasn’t much good. And that’s not to say that sticking songs into your movies is bad, but here it makes no sense. Each new location is punctuated with a new song but nothing that works for the scene it’s not an ironic use of a song or an obvious one, it’s a B-side track from someone that just serves to be a loud wake up call for anyone snoozing during the second act. Even a film as uneven as The Meg managed to put a fun Chinese version of Hey Mickey in that sort of worked.
What follows is a mess of a film that’s so desperate to not be the Del Toro movies it forgets to be anything else, but that’s not to say there aren’t good things – there are. Harbour is good in his role, and there’s an element of joy when he deals with an old witch is a walking house, and some of the gorier deaths are sort of fun.
But even with that, the film fails to be anything that lasts in the memory of comic book or fantasy films and reminds us that really, Del Toro should have been given the money to finish his vision first, because at least then there would have been a completed arc. Here it’s much like the central hero, an unholy blend of two worlds.