I’ve struggled; I’ve toiled; I’ve wracked my brain for days, and I still can’t think of a movie I’ve hated this much since Red Sparrow, and for remarkably similar reasons. The aforementioned Jennifer Lawrence vehicle was too long, boring, poorly written, sported a borderline incoherent plot, and reveled in its over-the-top gore to a degree that makes Game of Thrones look like Veggie Tales. And so it is with Hellboy.
First, a little bit of backstory. For years now, fans have been eagerly waiting for Hellboy 3, the conclusion to director Guillermo del Toro’s trilogy. Both Hellboy 1 and 2 were thoroughly enjoyed by audiences (due in no small part to the chemistry between the leads and del Toro’s knack for imbuing worlds with charm and detail through the use of practical effects), but both fell short of studio expectations at the box office. And so, despite a vocal fanbase and a supportive cast/crew, the threequel was shelved indefinitely.
It was eventually announced that the franchise would be rebooted with a new director, a new cast, and an entirely new storyline. Replacing Ron Perlman as the titular Hellboy would be Stranger Things’ David Harbour, and Neil Marshall was on tap to fill del Toro’s director’s chair. Early promotional images were promising and seemed to indicate that the new film would stay far more faithful to Mike Mignola’s graphic novels. Furthermore, the studio hoped that a hard R rating would generate some buzz in the newly popular mature superhero movie market.
To the second point above, I can definitively say that the film created no buzz in that or any market, as Hellboy opened considerably lower than either of the previous films with a dismal $12 million. To the first (having never read a single graphic novel or watched any of the animated films they inspired), I’m very comfortable saying that if Marshall’s vision of Hellboy is the true version, then I just don’t think I like Hellboy.
I’ll cut to the chase here: Hellboy is a vile, pointless, thoroughly unpleasant movie with virtually no redeeming value save for David Harbour’s desperate attempt to make his character likable. The plot is poorly constructed at best, and hysterically awful at worst. The vast majority of the cast phones in their performances as bland throwaway characters, with the exception of Mila Jovovich who is flat out terrible. The plentiful CGI looks cheaper than any Hollywood tentpole I can recall from recent years. There are a couple of decent action sequences, but these are buried in so much blood and gore that they’re hard to appreciate.
I’m hardly averse to extreme violence in my movies, but generally I ask that there be A) something other than exploding bodies to occupy the frame or B) some measure of self-control in terms of just how overboard things are going to get. Take any Tarintino movie. Take District 9. Hell, even take the original Saw. These movies, in addition to generous bodily explosions and/or mutilation also included:
- Generally interesting characters with clear motivations and relationships.
- Clever or original concepts executed competently.
- Distinct and memorable settings.
- Coherent storylines.
- Passable dialogue.
- Likable or dislikable characters based on the filmmakers’ intent.
- Any sort of charm whatsoever.
Hellboy possesses zero of these attributes. In their stead, it proudly features:
- Lots of disembodied limbs splattering against surfaces.
- A man impaled on a metal pylon.
- Many, many lost eyes with poorly sutured eye flaps.
- A demon reaching under a man’s jaw and peeling all of the skin from his face.
- Another demon slowly scraping all of the skin from another man’s head with a large axe.
- Another demon tearing multiple people clean in half.
- Yet another demon creating a rather drippy human shish-kabob with his very pointy feet.
- A long worm of some sort being slowly pulled from a woman’s neck.
- A one-eyed woman with two peg legs and a ripped apart, decomposing face eating a bowl of child soup (yes, that would be soup made from children), complete with tiny little finger bones and chunks of goopy flesh.
- That same woman tongue kissing Hellboy with her green, slimy tongue for roughly 15 seconds of screentime.
- A gentleman whose face skin slowly distends and rips open as he transforms into some kind of leopard.
- A woman whose superpower is to barf up slimy, snake-like CGI specters of recently deceased individuals.
There’s plenty more, but I think I’ve made my point. And again, if there were any more to the movie than that, it wouldn’t be nearly as bad. But the plot.
Oh, the plot.
As near as I can figure, the story is about an ancient blood witch who was cut into pieces and scattered across England by King Arthur after a long war between a horde of poorly rendered monsters and poorly costumed humans. There is a boar-man who wants to reassemble her so that she can help him get revenge on Hellboy for reasons so petty and menial that I’m sincerely hoping I missed something. The blood witch, on the other hand, wants to be reassembled so that she can unleash a plague on humanity and somehow trick Hellboy into wielding Excalibur, becoming the harbinger of destruction, and eventually marrying her. Also, there are Nazis wearing what look like 3D glasses with little swastikas on each lens.
It’s entirely possible that literally any of this makes sense when taken in the context of the graphic novels, but I mean holy shit. This makes The Mummy with Tom Cruise look obscenely well thought out.
I could easily continue this review for a good long while, but I’m about as done with Hellboy as a person can possibly be. So please, I implore you, don’t see this film. Just don’t. If you want to watch anything to do with the character or learn his backstory, please direct yourself to the nearest copy of Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 version and its 2008 sequel. If you want to see a movie in theaters, watch Shazam (which was surprisingly delightful). Watch Us. Watch Missing Link. Watch Captain Marvel. Hell, just bounce from screen to screen watching the same previews over and over again for all I care.
Just please, don’t watch Hellboy.
As a big Mignola fan, I can assure you… based on what I’ve seen/heard about this movie so far, it’s done an injustice to his work on those books. The movie is a pastiche of elements/characters/plots from several of his books, all thrown into a blender and spat out into film form in an attempt to “stay true to the comics”. I have yet to see the film, so I can’t pass judgement of my own, but again, from what I’ve seen, it just doesn’t look like its worth my hard-earned money.
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Please trust me, it’s not. Thanks for the info though! Any recommendations for better animated adaptations?
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I’ll definitely throw my endorsement behind both HELLBOY: SWORD OF STORMS and HELLBOY: BLOOD & IRON, the two animated film adaptations of the comics. The del Toro cast (Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt) return to their roles, but it’s a different universe closer to the books (Liz and Hellboy aren’t romantically involved, for example). Of the two, I think you’d dig BLOOD & IRON the most; it’s got the most unique narrative framing I’ve ever seen in an animated film (present day mixed with reversed flashbacks), and it’s a blast to watch!
I’d also recommend the comics. SEED OF DESTRUCTION is the first, and probably the best place to start, but the books REALLY come into their own starting with WAKE THE DEVIL, the first book Mignola had complete creative control over. The world of Hellboy is a really enjoyable one, and is definitely worth checking out!
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Thanks! I’ll have to give those a look when I can!
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