After the attempt at making a third feature in Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy franchise fell through, the studio decided to scrap everything and start over. This time, with a brand new cast, edgier rating and a focus on staying closer to the comics. Directed by Neil Marshall and simply titled “Hellboy”, this is a messy, yet fun and nasty redo.
This new incarnation of Hellboy is far more faithful to the comics, taking much of its story from the “Wild Hunt” comic series. Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola, even collaborated quite closely to the production.
Marshall, who previously made his mark with “The Descent” — one of the best horror films of the 21st century — and directing some of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, seems to be channeling his inner Sam Raimi. With a morbid sense of humor and large amounts of practical effects, this vision mostly suites the material. Del Toro’s films took dark fantasy with elements of horror and mixed it with grandiose superhero action. Marshall’s film on the other hand, deftly mixes Grindhouse splatter with big budget spectacle. If Del Toro’s films were fantastical, Marshall’s is more supernatural. Marshall delivers on the action with some fun sequences that are genuinely impressive, one in particular involving Hellboy and three giants.
Under the horns this time around is “Stranger Things” breakout, David Harbour. Harbour fades into the character of Hellboy. Obviously, comparisons will be made to his portrayal versus Ron Perlman’s, but Harbour stands on his own. He’s a more tortured soul and deals with plenty of internal conflict. This is a tougher, more world-weary Hellboy. This character also feels less mature and has a complicated relationship with his father, Professor Broom (Ian MacShane). The two have a long history that gets slightly explored within the brief downtime of slaying otherworldly ghouls and creatures.
Milla Jovovich (the “Resident Evil” franchise) chews the scenery as Nimue, The Blood Queen. While not a great villain by any stretch, Jovovich is clearly having fun, making her character fun to watch, particularly during her spouts with Harbour’s Hellboy.
Sasha Lane (American Honey) is underutilized as Alice, a sprit medium following Hellboy on his quest to prevent the apocalypse. Lane, sporting a dodgy British accent, is fine in the role, but doesn’t get much to do other than stand beside Harbour and play second fiddle.
Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) is also wasted as Major Ben Daimio. The characters most interesting trait is the hidden demon inside of him and once we actually get to see that demon come to fruition, we wish it had stayed hidden away.
A hard rock-inspired score by Benjamin Wallfisch (Blade Runner 2049) that sounds like the “Doom” video game is used quite nicely. With plenty of metal and hard rock music cues, the score feels energetic and adds a nice touch to some of the bigger action set pieces.
This has to be one of the goriest mainstream films released in quite some time. There are no dismemberments, gougings, slashings, stabbings left untouched here. A bizarre and genuinely shocking sequence involving the ghoulish, Baba Yaga, is a prime example of what this new take is going for.
Despite the hefty number of practical effects, there is plenty of CG work and to say it looks dodgy would be kind. Not to keep comparing Del Toro’s films to this, but those films came out over a decade ago and had much better CG despite the budgets being within the same ballpark.
Hellboy also feels like the product of post-production meddling and if reports are to be true, that might just be the case. The script is filled with needless exposition that bogs down the momentum. The ragged editing makes for some baffling moments including some horrid ADR. The plot is largely nonsensical; there is just too much going on here often confusing chaotic with fast-paced.
Hellboy is a mess, but almost gloriously so. This is a bumpy and schlock-filled ride that I had a hell of a time watching. While unsurprisingly bashed from most, this is destined to become a new cult classic.