David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Sasha Lane, Thomas Haden Church
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… a few good gore gags and a monster or two can’t disguise the dearth of imagination on display here….
In 1993 a talented comic book artist/writer named Mike Mignola debuted the now iconic character of Hellboy, a demonic bloke who loves pancakes, cigars and punching the shit out of evil. Just over a decade later, in 2004, a talented writer/director named Guillermo del Toro released a cinematic adaptation, Hellboy starring Ron Perlman, that while taking some liberties with the source material and adding an unnecessary romance, brimmed with whimsy and imagination. Said film got a sequel in 2008, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which performed adequately but not spectacularly at the box office and, for a time, the embers of the Hellboy franchise cooled.
Fade in to 2019 and another talented director by the name of Neil Marshall, the chap who brought us the excellent Dog Soldiers (2002) and all-time genre classic The Descent (2005), has rebooted big red in a brand new adventure. And the result? Ehhh it’s a bit of a mess, hey.
Hellboy (2019) focuses on Hellboy (David Harbour this time around) on a quest to defeat an evil witch, Nimue (Milla Jovovich) who is gathering an army of monsters and ready to unleash a plague across England and then the world. It’s a fun premise, with a lot of eye-catching creature effects and gore, but there’s just something missing in this adaptation. Ian McShane, one of the world’s most charming actors, is horribly miscast as Hellboy’s adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm, and the new BRPD team members, Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) are only sporadically interesting. Most disappointing is Hellboy himself, however, who has gone from being an optimistic dreamer and charming smart arse to a whiny, self-loathing dickhead who spouts unfunny zingers every ten seconds. It doesn’t help that David Harbour’s wonderfully expressive face is covered in layers of stiff makeup effects, so he looks for all the world like a frowning botox tragedy; but it’s hard to imagine what Neil Marshall was going for here with this singularly unappealing performance.
The thing is, lower budget remakes of large comic book properties can actually be a good thing. Despite its relatively poor showing at the box office, 2012’s Dredd reboot is remembered much more fondly than 1995’s Sylvester Stallone-starring stinker, Judge Dredd. Same goes for 2008’s Lexi Alexander-directed Punisher: War Zone, which was arguably the best take on the material until Netflix took that crown. However, this Hellboy seems intent on avoiding everything that makes the character likable, unique or interesting.
On the slender plus side, some of the creatures look pretty cool and the gore is… kinda fun? A couple of the sequences in the third act are so batshit crazy in their viscera-splattered invention, you can’t help but chuckle.
Sadly, however, a few good gore gags and a monster or two can’t disguise the dearth of imagination on display here, and the whole effort feels like an unfortunate misfire. While not without occasional goofy charm this version of “diablo muchacho” should have probably spent more time in (development) hell.