Hellboy (2019) review

HELLBOY

Director: Neil Marshall
Cast : David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, Alastair Petrie
Genre : Action/Horror/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hours
Opens : 11 April 2019
Rating : M18/PG13

           Last seen on the big screen in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the antihero with the shorn-off horns returns from the fiery depths in this regrettable reboot.

Hellboy/Anung Un Rama (David Harbour) is a demon who came to earth as the result of a Nazi experiment in World War II and was adopted and raised by Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Bruttenholm founded the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD), a secretive agency that protects earth from supernatural threats. Hellboy, who was destined to bring about mankind’s destruction, fights to prevent it instead.

Vivienne Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the bloodthirsty sorceress defeated by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson), is resurrected with the help of the humanoid pig beast Gruagach (Stephen Graham). Nimue sets her sights on Hellboy, attempting to seduce him to join her side and turn against humanity. Hellboy is assisted in his quest by the clairvoyant Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and BPRD agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who suppresses his own horrific supernatural abilities.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of this reviewer’s favourite comic book films. It is a pity that director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman were not given the opportunity to conclude that trilogy. Del Toro’s many gifts as a filmmaker include a meticulous visual sense, a knack for world-building and an emphasis on heart, all elements this reboot is sorely wanting for. There are enough superficial similarities with del Toro’s two Hellboy films to actively invite comparisons, none of which are favourable.

The Hellboy character was created by Mike Mignola, and this film purports to hew closer to the horror elements of the comics, taking inspiration from the arcs Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury. While this is certainly more violent and gorier than del Toro’s take on the material, that doesn’t make it any more interesting.

Director Neil Marshall seems like the natural candidate for the material, given his background in British horror films like The Descent, Dog Soldiers and Doomsday. While he seems to be aiming for a pulpy B-movie quality which comes through sporadically, there’s very little in Hellboy to really care about. Much of the story is told in reams of exposition, and flashbacks that establish each new character feel like distracting detours. There’s little mystique or creepiness to the occult elements of the story, such that suspension of disbelief isn’t earned.

In Singapore, the film is being released simultaneously in M18 and edited PG13 cuts. We saw the PG13 version, which is obviously and awkwardly hacked to pieces. If you’re watching this at all, do not watch the PG13 cut. It’s still gory and three uses of the F-word make it intact in the dialogue, which seems puzzling. We’re not sure how much better the M18 cut is, we’re willing to bet not much.

Guillermo del Toro’s deep love for movie monsters meant that there was something fascinating about each of the creatures seen in his movies, something in their design and the way they were brought to life by suit performers and special effects. This Hellboy movie gives us vampires, giants, fairies, zombies, pig-men, jaguar beasts and all assortment of monsters, but they rarely feel convincing and often come across as synthetic and goofy. There isn’t much scale to this movie even though it wants to be an epic, rollicking adventure, and what should be exciting is rendered frenetic instead. Baba Yaga (Troy James and Emma Tate) is a legitimately creepy monster, though, thanks mostly to the prosthetic makeup effects used to bring the crone to life.

David Harbour will be the target of much of the ire of fans who have grown attached to Ron Perlman’s take on Big Red, but this reviewer is hesitant to blame him. Harbour, known as Sheriff Hopper from Stranger Things, does the best with the material he’s given and overhauled his physique to play Hellboy. Despite the name “Hellboy”, the character is a grown man, and that’s the biggest issue with this take – the character comes across as whiny rather than conflicted about where his allegiances lie. The sweetness and likeability that should lie just beneath the crimson surface are all but absent.

One of the movie’s big missteps is in depicting the relationship between Hellboy and his adoptive father Bruttenholm. There is no tenderness or affection, only shouting and pointing fingers, such that it’s hard to believe Bruttenholm ever really loved Hellboy. The emotional core of the movie should be that a man decided to adopt a baby monster he was meant to kill. McShane brings gruffness and gravitas to the part, as is his wont, but there isn’t much in the relationship to get invested in.

The one thing in this movie that seemed most enticing was the prospect of Milla Jovovich as a villainess – while she tends to be stiff in action hero roles, Jovovich can be delightfully over-the-top as evil characters. There is a bit of that here, but Nimue is mostly flat and never registers as a truly powerful malevolent force.

Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim attempt to inject personality into their supporting roles, but the things about their respective characters that are interesting are barely explored, while their back-stories are over-explained.

There was every chance that a Hellboy reboot could be done well, and there are tiny indications here of what could’ve been. There are still serviceable moments of action horror and while the jokes are more miss than hit, the general tone is fine. The bits of the film involving Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church) are the most entertaining. Unfortunately, it adds up to a disappointing whole, such that the sequel-bait ending and post-credits scenes feel awfully over-confident.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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