‘Hellboy’ (2019) review: Buckets of uninspired gore

On paper, there’s a lot to like in Neil Marshall’s reboot of ‘Hellboy’ but its haphazard execution makes it feel numbing and exhausting.

Neil Marshall’s Hellboy actually does a good job in tempering your expectations as its problems become apparent right from the very start. It kicks off with a clunky prologue of King Arthur, Merlin & Co. thwarting the plans of Nimue a.k.a. the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) by hacking her body into bits and sealing them into separate enchanted caskets. This imaginative tie up to the known Arthurian legend is what makes Mike Mignola’s comics captivating. Granted that the hasty narration is an obvious attempt to keep the runtime down, you can easily forgive it. As it turns out, however, this relentless dry exposition will be your constant companion throughout. Hellboy drags its titular hero from one dangerous situation to next. It even bothers to explain the backstory of its supporting players, yet it fails to take pause for introspective character development. In effect, it does feel like reading a thick issue of comics. The film shoves so many storylines more so than it can chew.

What you need to know is that Hellboy (David Harbour) is a red incubus who ends up working with the good guys – the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). He’s humanity’s only hope yet he’s also the prophesized bringer of apocalypse. Hence, he keeps snapping his horns to prevent summoning hellish fiends of all sorts. A seer named Lady Hatton (Sophie Okonedo) narrates his origin via flashback, which prominently features a vigilante in goggle shades (Thomas Haden Church) for no adequate reason. Apart from that, the film also narrates the origin of Hellboy’s psychic friend Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), as well as scar-faced military soldier Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). Elsewhere, a hog-like fairy Gruagach (Stephen Graham/Douglas Tait) is tasked to gather Nimue’s body parts so that a very hideous looking Baba Yaga (Emma Tate/Troy James) can restore her and officially pursue her plans of world domination.

Sasha Lane (Alice Monaghan), David Harbour (Hellboy) and Daniel Dae Kim (Ben Daimio)

For a screenplay that’s written by one person (Andrew Cosby), Hellboy surprisingly feels dizzying and incoherent. Aside from its overstuffed plot, another sore eye here is its haphazard editing that fails to stitch things organically. With its loose connections, the film gives an impression of looking like a series of violent clips strung together by bland electric guitar riffs. Soon enough, it abandons character development to showcase everyone else has paid to see… fights with monsters. At one point, Hellboy mutilates giants with buckets of blood and guts pouring out from weightless CGI characters. You can easily remove this segment to achieve better pacing but hey, teenage boys must be pleased at this point so let’s keep it eh?

Harbour (of Stranger Things) is more than worthy to take up the horns as he makes the most of whatever he’s given. Being practically buried in layers of makeup, however, renders his face expressionless at some moments. As for the rest of the cast, they’re quite unremarkable. Superpowered sidekicks played by Lane and Kim are two-dimensional characters at best, and Jovovich, despite her striking screen presence, has not much to do but scowl at the camera and wait for a disappointing showdown at the end.

Milla Jovovich as Nimue, the Blood Queen.

If there’s an edge that this version has over Guillermo del Toro’s is that it fully embraces the hard R horror elements of its source material. But to give justice to gratuitous violence is an entire different thing. The audiovisual chaos is loud and abrasive – beheadings, dismemberments, skewering, etc. I am willing to embrace all the hell-raising involved, had only the film actually earned it. Unlike Deadpool films that plays violence for a comic effect, Hellboy ultimately winds up closer to lesser films like Underworld and Resident Evil. What’s initially stirring gradually turns to numbing and exhausting.

Del Toro’s Hellboy films remain to be the superior version. It has grace and style, and most important of all, it has craftsman care for its story and its characters. Sure, Marshall’s reboot deserves to be judged on its own merits and in that regard, this one falls short in having an affecting emotional lynchpin, which could have been the relationship of Hellboy and his adoptive father (Ian McShane). It also could’ve mined more internal conflict – the Blood Queen wants to awaken Hellboy’s hidden potential as the demon king, yet not much energy is spent to attempt at such nuance.

“You are mankind’s best and only hope.”

There are some decent parts in Hellboy that can be salvaged. Taken as a whole, however, it just feels like an utter chore to sit through. Marked by unnecessary set-ups, incessant expositions and incoherent plot, the film sacrifices restraint for R-rated creativity and ambition. Most viewers certainly don’t come solely for uninspired gore.

2.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Neil Marshall and written by Andrew Cosby, ‘Hellboy’ stars David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Brian Gleeson, Alistair Petrie, Laila Morse, Stephen Graham and Douglas Tait. Based on Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy.” 121 minutes. R-16.

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.