Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 10, 2019)
15 years after Guillermo Del Toro brought the character to the big screen, Mike Mignola’s comic book creation reboots via 2019’s Hellboy. During a prologue set in 517 AD, King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson) attempt to deal with the threat from Vivian Nimue (Milla Jovovich), also known as the “Queen of Blood”.
Initially it appears that they agree to a truce. Instead, Nimue ends up cut into pieces, with the different body parts dispatched to various corners of the globe to prevent magical reunification.
In present day, supernatural hero Hellboy (David Harbour) finds himself on a mission to the English countryside where he battles giants. He also encounters a resurrected Nimue and needs to stop her attempts at apocalyptic domination.
If I really want to see a movie, reviews don’t change my plans. Persistently poor notices will impact my expectations, but if I maintain a strong desire to view a flick, I’ll go no matter what.
Although I liked 2004’s Hellboy and 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, I loved neither, and they didn’t make me a dedicated fan of the franchise. Still, I thought enough of them that I figured I’d see 2019’s Hellboy theatrically.
Relentlessly bad reviews pushed me away from my local multiplex. Even a level of mediocrity would’ve still sent me to see Hellboy theatrically, but with notices that called the film “a complete failure” and a “slog”, I figured I’d give it a pass.
My standards for home viewership remain much lower – hey, I gotta churn out content for the site! – so that meant I’d give the new Hellboy a go on my TV. Does it deserve the brutal notices it earned? Maybe not, but I find it hard to locate much I’d call successful here.
As noted, I didn’t love the two Del Toro flicks, but they work much better than the 2019 version, at least partly because they show signs of insight and humanity. As painted by Del Toro and played by Ron Perlman, Hellboy manages a good balance of tough guy bravado and insecure humanity, all delivered with a fine dollop of dark wit.
Although I don’t think Harbour flops as Hellboy, he doesn’t bring close to the same level of depth to the part. In this flick, Hellboy lacks much real personality. Buried beneath makeup, Harbour manages a passable performance but he fails to add depth or spark to the role.
Given the script’s many limitations, though, I can’t really fault Harbour for these problems, as I doubt Perlman could’ve done much with the character as written. The screenplay touches on Hellboy’s conflicts and challenges but doesn’t convey them in a meaningful manner, so it leaves him as a cartoony protagonist.
None of the supporting actors pick up the slack. As Hellboy’s “father” Professor Broom, Ian McShane feels glib and without the gravitas John Hurt brought to the role. Jovovich cashes a check as our lackluster villain, and no one else stands out from the crowd.
Again, I can’t blame the actors, as the tedious script leaves them so little room for expression that blah performances feel inevitable. Hellboy touches on the superficial appeal of the character without the emotional elements needed to make matters successful.
Despite an inherently simple plot, Hellboy delivers a massive mess of a narrative. The story meanders down a slew of confusing, unnecessary paths, none of which help it in the long run.
Instead, they feel like they exist to distract the viewer from the film’s inherent emptiness. We get a mix of flashbacks and side journeys that seem like they should enliven the tale, but they don’t.
Rather than add impact to the story, these moments simply lead us away from the basic plot’s purpose and ensure that a messy movie becomes even less coherent. As I noted, the basic narrative of Hellboy seems pretty simple, but the filmmakers do their best to muck it up and bring us something incoherent.
Throw in seemingly endless action montages linked to grating rock music as well as some shockingly bad computer effects and Hellboy flops. It might not be the worst comic book adaptation I’ve seen, but it’s lousy.