Expectations are fickle fiends. Especially for movies. It gets even harder when a remake is brought on after a successful first iteration. Oscar-winning visionary director Guillermo Del Toro made two delightfully fun Hellboy movies, starring the charming Ron Perlman. The character didn’t really need a reboot, but the world got one anyway. The new Hellboy (2019), directed by Neil Marshall and starring David Harbour, is not as terrible as everyone says.
Hellboy is back, and he’s out to fight monsters. He’s a demon raised by humans, and used as a weapon against everything that’s creepy-crawly with a taste for people.
With the help of a medium Alice Mongham (Sasha Lane) and brooding military man Ben Daimo (Daniel Dae Kim), they venture out to defeat Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) from attaining ultimate power. It’s a simple monster story, with many similarities with the one that came out 15 years ago.
The big difference is that while the one starring Ron Perlman can be considered PG-13, the 2019 version is not. There’s a reason he’s called Hellboy and not Heckboy. Hellboy (2019) is bloody, violent, with gory shots splattered throughout the film. They don’t shy away from body horror, beheadings, and acts that make the fluids underneath your skin slither.
Going into this Hellboy expecting something akin to the first two is wrong. It’s like going into The Dark Knight expecting The Batman Movie from 1966. In the first 5 minutes, the f-word is used casually but with enough emphasis to let the audience know this version is not fooling around.
Though the original has more smiles and silliness, expecting the same is a poor decision. Marshall’s version is no way near a PG-13 rating, and it’s definitely not geared to a younger audience. The fact that there is no nudity doesn’t mean it’s not for adults. The violence and gore is excessive, and more times the CGI isn’t fleshed out (sometimes flesh is torn off victims by a mystical beast). This dramatic change of scenery can have an effect on the viewing audience, proven when audible gasps and groans were heard coming from the nearly full, but quite empty, room.
It’s a Sisyphean task to replicate the tone of the original, but still attempt to stand on its own. As a Dark Horse publication, people expected this horror-comic to break the mold. To be fair, there are scenes where carcasses have grown moldy, and places of worship are leaking with some form of primal ooze. Hellboy is a classic story of a hero who doesn’t think he’s worthy, with a distant father figure, and a world who hates him.
This is not a new story; Hellboy just tried to retell an old story in a unique, and mostly bloody, way. It succeeded in the rehash for people story for a newer audience. It also accomplished putting out a unique vibe with its intense horror scenes. It fails where many movies like this fail. It has far too many subplots, underused characters, and lore that even comic fans might have a hard time following. It’s cluttered with both children’s bones and unnecessary filler, taking away from the meatier parts of the story.
It’s difficult to take on a role that has been established already by a veteran actor. No one believed Heath Ledger can do the Joker, and Tom Holland was looked at with hesitation as the new Spider-Man. David Harbor needed to unnecessarily compete with Ron Perlman for the role of Hellboy. Just like the movie itself, he had to remain loyal to the comics, show similarities to Perlman, but stand out without alienating anyone.
Going into a movie and putting that much weight on an actor’s shoulders is as unpleasant as all the weight the prosthetic these actors needed to wear. Harbour did a good job. No way around it. He is surly, emotional, sarcastic, and had a voice of gravitas and passion. He is a little crankier than Perlman, who was more solemn and sweet, but did not disappoint. Ian McShane is perfect as Professor Broom as the stern, “I told you so” father who was never really there.
The problem, once again, lies on the extra bits dangling in the wind like pieces of human extremities caught in the monsters teeth. The main villain, The Blood Queen, was nothing spectacular, but it’s good to see Milla Jovovich back in her fantasy ways. The rest of the cast are simply dull. They could have easily removed a good portion of the secondary cast, their back stories, and beef up the main plot for a more engaging and fluid movie.
Every superhero movie needs good consistent action. As previously mentioned, Hellboy is not for the faint of heart. There are two big problems with this version’s action. The first is that it’s inconsistent. Other action movies try and keep a same tone with their actions scenes. Hellboy is all over the place. Sometimes it focuses too much on the gore, or it focuses on its sleek fast-paced superheroics. Other times, it resorts to the always despised shaky cam. Even the cool monster fights are a mixed bag.
What makes the movie worse is the noticeable outdated computer graphics. It looks unpolished, and many times it seems that it was hastily added at the last minute to make the movie simply “more”. Luckily, more often than not, Hellboy does entertain, but a couple of bad moments can make even a fun movie look unwatchable.
Hellboy suffers from current comic book movie problems. It tries to do too much in such a short time. It is lore heavy, especially for a horror/fantasy film, and uses a lot of time explaining more than punching or developing characters. It tries to add far too many subplots, which is better suited for a TV series, and doesn’t know how to pace itself. There is obviously a lot wrong with the movie, but it doesn’t deserve these abysmal scores. David Harbour is great as Hellboy, and the action is fun when it’s done right. It’s far from being close to a masterpiece, but it’s nowhere near Batman v. Superman levels of bad. It’s best watched at home, or on a cheap movie night.