Reboot of superhero film ‘Hellboy’ brings horror, blood, gore

“Hellboy”, the legendary half-demon superhero is back this April, but not as a continuation to the 2004 and 2008 fantasy-heavy Hellboy films by visionary writer/director Guillermo del Toro.  Instead, this movie reboot has a darker tone, much more grounded in horror (Rated R in America and Rated R-13 in the Philippines), and is composed of a new cast and a new creative team that includes Mike Mignola, the creator of the “Hellboy” comic books, acting as a co-executive producer. 

Now directed by award-winning director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Game of Thrones), and stars two-time Emmy Award Best Supporting Actor nominee David Harbour (Chief Jim Hopper in Stranger Things) in the titular role, Hellboy is seen being called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants.  This is part of his job in the government organization called B.P.R.D. – Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.  

While in pursuit of the giants, Hellboy encounters Nimue the Blood Queen, played by the stunning Resident Evil star Milla Jovovich.  This vengeful 5th century sorceress wants to get him on her side so that together they can end mankind.  

David Harbour as ‘Hellboy’, Sasha Lane as ‘Alice Monoghan’, and Daniel Day Kim as ‘Ben Daimio’ in HELLBOY. Photo Credit: Mark Rogers.

While the movie will show some explanation on the background of Hellboy – that he was  summoned from the depths of hell on a stormy island off the coast of Scotland –  it begins right in the middle of the action.  It is also “truer to the comic” , says Mike Mignola, “in that Hellboy’s been out in the world, not a top-secret, hidden away guy”.  He has a “been there, done that vibe”, a trait that Mignola patterned after his father, a Korean War veteran.  

David Harbour says, “In our movie, he’s very much dealing with his own being ostracized from society.”  He is a lot more “emotionally explosive” compared to the Hellboy version of Ron Perlman.  Harbour expounds, “It’s a classically complicated hero. He’s a creature that was meant to bring about the end of the world, and he just sort of wants to be a good guy. He’s got that complexity to him. He’s also a monster who lives among human beings, so he’s in a sense fighting for human beings against his fellow monsters, and yet the humans hate him because they fear him and they think he’s weird-looking and everything.”  

Ian McShane stars as ‘Dr. Broom’ in Hellboy. Photo Credit: Mark Rogers.

Having a big role in Hellboy’s life is Trevor Brutteholm, his adoptive father and founder of the B.P.R.D. Played by Golden Globe Best Actor Ian McShane (Deadwood), his version of Brutteholm is “a much harder character who doesn’t sympathize with Hellboy questioning his place in the world”.  

McShane calls it “nice and bittersweet” taking over the role from “his dear old friend” John Hurt, but he was pleased to have worked with Harbour in Bulgaria for three weeks.  He is proud to say that the filmmakers “picked the right guy” in Harbour.  

Milla Jovovich as ‘Nimue the Blood Queen’ and Penelope Mitchell as ‘Ganeida’ in HELLBOY. Photo Credit: Mark Rogers.

As for Nimue the Blood Queen, she is depicted in the comics as a witch from Arthurian Britain who was cast out and trapped underground for 1500 years.  This could be the reason she’s thirsting for vengeance.  

In response to what kind of power her character has, Jovovich says, “She is able to throw plague and sickness on people.”  In spite of this, the actress believes that the Blood Queen is “terribly misunderstood”.  She explains, “The Blood Queen’s plan is so beautiful, something that all people want to achieve and it’s actually very relevant to what’s happening in our world.  It’s trying to bring people together even though they are very disparate communities, monsters and humans, and bring the world into one so that everybody is protecting each other…I come in peace.  It’s not my fault I’m a strong woman.”  

Being “a powerful and strong woman” was actually Harbour’s first impression of Jovovich whom he had only known from movies like The Fifth Element.  And because of that, the actor admitted to be “a little worried” working with her, but upon meeting her, he discovered that “she is such a pro” and he enjoyed the “level of love” she has for making a movie.  

Other characters that are appearing for the first time are Alice Monaghan, played by Sasha Lane (American Honey) and Ben Daimo, played by Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), Hellboy’s companions in saving the world.  

Monaghan is depicted as a woman of Irish descent who retained some magical abilities after she was kidnapped by fairies as a baby.  In the comics, she was rescued by Hellboy from her kidnappers. 

Daimo is a Japanese-American military member of B.P.R.D. who acquired the power to transform into a jaguar when angered or in pain after a supernatural encounter.  

“Hellboy” is filled with incredible action and Harbour prepared well for it, saying that “It’s the most physical role (he’s) ever played.”  Hollywood trainer Don Saladino put him through “a rigorous 10-week boot camp, involving kettlebells, medicine balls, machine weights, dumbbells, and weighted sleds—and that was just to kick things off”.  

Harbour says, “I put on a lot of muscle and I got really strong and a lot of the training was power, because there’s a lot of stunts in the movie. There are two amazing Bulgarian Olympic wrestlers who did most of the Hellboy stunts, but there still was a lot of close up stuff that I had to do.”  

David Harbour as ‘Hellboy’ and Sasha Lane as ‘Alice Monoghan’ in HELLBOY. Photo Credit: Mark Rogers.

As for his weapons, Harbour shares, “He’s got this big hand cannon and he’s also got this big Right Hand of Doom, so there’s a lot of big fights and there’s a lot of swinging that big right hand around.”

“Hellboy” opens in cinemas on April 10, 2019 from VIVA International Pictures and MVP Entertainment.

‘Shazam!’ review: Another home run for DCEU

David F. Sandberg’s ‘Shazam!’ is an ode to all those kids (and kids at heart) who have wild dreams of becoming a superhero.

It seems that DC Extended Universe really takes these two constructive criticisms to heart: 1.) Most of their movies are too dark and brooding; and 2.) There are no shortcuts in finding both commercial and critical success for ensemble films (ehem, Justice League), other than banking first on stand-alone origins. Coming after Wonder Woman and Aquaman – two origin films that use a lighter approach compared to Zack Snyder’s style, Shazam! turns out to be the most amusing and most family friendly DCEU offering to date. Oddly enough, it features the best aspects of a Marvel film: the maturity that comes with great responsibility in Spider-Man, the groundedness and familial bond in Ant-Man and the meta-humor of a PG-13 Deadpool. Who would’ve taught that such combination can be a key to combat superhero fatigue?

In it, an orphan teenage boy named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gains the ability to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) upon uttering the titular incantation. Technically, the premise sets up to saving the world (again), but when you’re a kid who’s bestowed with a full spectrum of superpowers, do you go on and do it immediately? Of course not. You get to have some fun first. The best thing about Shazam! is that it’s buoyant, innocent and unpretentious in nature. At its centerpiece is a hilarious montage of Billy, along with his geeky friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), testing out his newly acquired powers in a series of YouTube videos – all set to the tune of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” If you’re that kid who has (or once had) a wild dream of becoming a superhero, I can guarantee that you’ll be “having such a good time” here.

Fun fact! SHAZAM is an acronym that stands for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

Channeling the enthusiasm of a thrilled teenager, Zachary Levi (of Chuck TV series) is a perfect fit in this role. Most viewers are quick to judge on how downright cheesy his costume looks and it’s quite true – his red spandex suit pops like a sore thumb, his cape looks like a tablecloth, his physique seems slightly over-inflated, and his hair is ridiculously dark and lacquered. But the film quickly tells what we are clearly missing in that presumption – Shazam has to look that way for he is the embodiment of a superhero in a kid’s eyes. Levi is an electrifying and magnetic movie star who fully owns the absurdity of his act. By now, I’m expecting that Shazam! will skyrocket his movie career, much like what Guardians of the Galaxy did for former TV star Chris Pratt.

Showing off Superman’s crushed bullet: Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) in ‘Shazam’

Also, thanks to IT’s casting discovery, Jack Dylan Grazer is sensational here. Freddy never gets defined by his disability alone, rather he’s a snarky idealist who has deep scars to hide. The heart here rests in Grazer’s natural and irresistible rapport with both Levi and Asher Angel. Likewise, Angel’s Billy, despite being a slightly morally ambiguous child, is an appealing and root-able protagonist. The rest of his foster siblings are also memorable enough to elevate from mere background characters. As they band together to stop the threats against their family, the mission feels deeply personal. Saving the world refreshingly seems like a side objective now.

Billy’s foster family (L-R): Jovan Armand (Pedro), Ian Chen (Eugene), Zachary Levi (Shazam/Billy), Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy), Faith Herman (Darla) and Grace Fulton (Mary).

Director David F. Sanderg, whose previous works include Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, uses his horror sensibilities to bring out the film’s nightmarish themes into fruition. Sometimes his propensity for terror escalates to a fault: for a PG-13 film, there are shockingly violent scenes here and the monsters (a.k.a. The Seven Deadly Sins) can be terrifying for younger audiences. Leading these grotesque looking minions is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a misunderstood kid with daddy issues himself. He’s also into world domination, but the film paints him more than a standard cardboard villain by rooting his motivations to a childhood traumatic experience. Strong brings pathos and a sense of wounded vulnerability to the character.

Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) harnesses the power of the Rock of Eternity.

While Shazam! has plenty of fantastical action and visual gags, it also has a lot of heartfelt stuff to say on the notion of family and friendship – that such bond isn’t predicated by blood alone. In a time where Billy feels lost and alone, he finds solace in the company of a foster family who wholeheartedly accepts his flaws. He thinks that his journey is about finding her biological mom but along the way he is set up to profound realizations of acceptance and forgiveness. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

Flight test: Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer in ‘Shazam’

With its bouncy pacing, goofy yet poignant theme, and a story that plays on an eye level, Shazam! is a solid step towards DCEU’s new direction. It serves as a powerful reminder that superheroes are created first and foremost for kids – that they should reflect their values, aspirations and wonder without the need to dumb down the narrative. It encapsulates the comic spirit – heart, humor and heroism. What a lightning bolt of joy.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, ‘Shazam!’ stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans. Characters based from DC Comics. Run time: 132 minutes.