Saturday, 13 April 2019

Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy (2019) theatrical poster.pngDirector: Neil Marshall
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Starring: 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, Douglas Tait


A rebooted feature film of the popular Dark Horse Comics character, coming about after a series of two beloved feature films by Guillermo Del Toro. It's an understatement to say Neil Marshall's film had an uphill battle from early on, something which Spider-Man and Batman have had to contend with multiple times over. The end result surprisingly has one thinking less of Del Toro's two films, but more of the studio-interfered shambles that was 2015's Fantastic Four.

Working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy (David Harbour) is the last line of defence for humanity. His work takes him to England, where he must stop the rise of Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the Blood Queen, who seeks to bring about the end of the world.

In taking over the eponymous role, David Harbour brings an intensity and likeability to the character through the impressive make-up design. He does well in making this more battle scarred take on the character his own, but unfortunately has to contend with needless bouts of forced humour, which is distracting in how obviously dubbed over they are. The jokes he has to deliver aren't groan-worthy, they're too pathetic to elicit such a response.

In playing the exact role we associate with the actor, Ian McShane delivers his roles with gusto. The potential is there for an interesting father/son relationship, as they bond over filing down demonic horns, but the material unfortunately gives them little to work with. Sadly, it's better material than the other cast members get, as Sasha Lane does her best in playing a walking plot device, there just to handily fill the gaps between moments. Daniel Dae Kim and Milla Jovovich are clearly trying, but their attempts are in vain on such thinly sketched figures. A special mention is deserved for Thomas Haden Church, who brings a genuine sense of fun in his limited screen-time.

When it comes to the actual plot, it's in complete disarray. It feels as though the set pieces were decided upon first, presumably taken from the comics, and everything else was worked around it. As a result of wanting to keep everything in the final product, we're left with an abundance of plot points which are tenuously connected, and largely feeling pointless. Take the opening fight between Hellboy and a Luchador vampire, it's a standalone affair which never gets referenced again, and would not have changed the film had it been taken out. Considering this doesn't have the running time a TV season gets, there's no chance for these decent story ideas to be given enough time and development, resulting in them being rushed through at a breakneck pace.

What makes this even more of a shame is, for a feature centred around the bouts of action, it's all so limp and lifeless. An assembly of rock tunes are played over them, but it just feels like a poor substitute for a genuine sense of fun, which makes Hellboy taking on multiple giants feel so monotonous. Though matters aren't helped by computer generated effects which would have looked cheap 15 years ago, and in a year where Samuel L. Jackson can believably be de-aged by over 20 years for a two hour film, this is utterly embarrassing.

The big change to this iteration of the character is its higher rating, which allows for more blood and swears. It's good to see the studios taking more of a chance on more adult-fare in comic-book films, thanks to Deadpool and Logan recently showing a higher rating doesn't mean death at the box office, but while it may be adult in rating, a better term for the film would be juvenile. The blood and gore is well crafted, but feels needlessly overused to justify the rating, and taking it out of the final product wouldn't result in much of a change. The same can be said of the swearing, as one gets the impression screenwriter Andrew Cosby just changed every other word to be a swear. It just all comes off as something trying to prove itself as edgy just because there's little else actually interesting about it, especially when the ultimate message appears to be "stop crying and grow a pair", which comes off as very regressive.

By the time the plot has wrapped up, multiple tags are thrown at the screen as efforts to set up a sequel. It's an approach which feels like the studio throwing whatever they can at the wall, in the hopes something will stick, but also gives off the impression that nobody knew to actually end the film. Whether we get a sequel, time will tell, but on the evidence of this final product, the end of the world seems more welcoming.

To put it simply, Hellboy is a hideous disaster. A brash mess written around half-assed set pieces, too focused on being "edgy" to make any of it actually work.


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