Movie review: Hellboy

The long awaited reboot of the comic book franchise feels like bad cosplay of the original

Directed by Neil Marshall
With David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church

The reboot of Hellboy misses out on the cleverness than made the originals worth watching, instead offering a jumbled plot and uncharismatic characters.

This film and the two previous ones from the 2000s are based on a series of graphic novels by Mike Mignola.

The best part of the reboot is the opening few minutes, set back in the time of Britain’s legendary King Arthur, with Merlin (Brian Gleeson) and a witch called the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich). This sets up some elements that run throughout the film.

Unfortunately, right after that, Hellboy (David Harbour) turns up. He looks like someone at a comic book convention trying to cosplay the character from 2004 film, but not quite getting it right. His giant hand looks like a styrofoam glove, and the stubs of his horns look like plastic.

His dialogue consists mainly of annoying retorts that were clearly meant to be funny, but tend more toward being just obnoxious. It is like watching someone at a comedy stand-upo open mic bombing his material but refusing to get off the stage.

His presence throughout the film serves as a reminder of how good Ron Perlman was in the original Hellboy and the 2008 sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Still, a good story might have made up for the change in who plays Hellboy. Alas, the story is a collection of disjointed scenes that occasionally pick up on the main thread related to the King Arthur legend. Hellboy runs just over two hours, and jumps from witches to vampires to giants to trolls with little connecting logic. The Slavic witch Baba Yaga even pops up. The main motivation seems to be able to throw in as much gruesome violence as possible.

A big part of the concept is the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), a secret government organization that fights monsters. They are depicted as squabbling crackpots hanging out in a messy basement, another lost opportunity to give the film some character.

Eventually, there is a ray of hope for the film. Actress Sasha Lane turns up as some sort of psychic named Alice.

She made her debut in American Honey as a traveling door-to-door magazine seller and later was in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, as someone sent an anti-LGBT program, among other mostly independent films. She is one of the few cast members who does not seem to be completely embarrassed by the film, and gives a warm and genuine performance.

Others in the cast, such as Ian McShane as Hellboy’s adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm, never sound like they believe the ridiculous dialogue they have to say. McShane’s career goes back the 1960s, and he has appeared in films such as 1970’s Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You and the 2004–06 HBO series Deadwood.

Model and actress Milla Jovovich has done some rather impressive work in the Resident Evil film series, as well is in comedies like Zoolander and in more serious films. Her potential here is wasted. Despite being featured prominently in the credits she has only a handful of scenes. She is quite effective as a tempting evil figure, except when she is drowned out by noisy special effects.

After failing to develop the characters properly throughout the film, there was no choice but to end it with a dizzying display of CGI, which has become the default method for comic book films. It is sort of like a big crescendo with drums and cymbals at the end of a symphony so people know it is time to get up and go home.

This reboot of Hellboy might have been passable if the standards set by the original two films were not so high. The original director, Guillermo del Toro, had hoped to make a trilogy but that fell apart when the owners of the material decided to go in a different direction that did not include del Toro or Perlman.

That this rather messy and unfocused gorefest is what audiences got instead of the film del Toro, one of the screen’s current masters, had hoped to make for years is a true disappointment.

The new filmmakers, though, are heavily counted on a sequel as there are several scenes in the credits setting up a new plot.

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