In the first scene in Hellboy featuring the eponymous character, he fights a vampire luchador in a wrestling ring. If that sounds like your s***, than you’re going to love the newest iteration of Hellboy. He punches giants, Baba Yaga, zombies, and crusty old British dudes too as he struggles to stop Nimue the Blood Queen’s (Milla Jovovich) apocalypse. Hellboy is punk rock movie: there’s not a lot of technical mastery but the film exudes energy.
Before Hellboy (David Harbour) steps in the ring, director Neil Marshall (who you should know from The Descent and Dog Soldiers) shows us Nimue’s lowest moment. In a black and white sequence, she’s cut apart by King Arthur, but unable to die. To prevent her uprising, Arthur sent his knights to carry her pieces to the furthest reaches of England. Once back together, she starts a campaign to bring “the forgotten people out of the dark.” It sounds quite heroic, although the film frames her as a villain. Hellboy, who is framed as a hero, needs to stop her.
Outside of the fight scenes, Hellboy feels a lot like Deadpool. There’s a joke roughly every thirty seconds. Some are funny, especially a repeated gag in which Hellboy tries to use a smartphone without breaking it. Other aren’t (“I met Ra once in the underworld. He’s a close talker.”) The script, penned by Andrew Cosby lampshades the jokiness, having Hellboy explain, “My therapist did say I rely on jokes as a way to normalize,” which makes sense but does suck some of the fun out of it. I like laughing. It’s not as much fun when it’s clear that I’m laughing at someone’s pain.
Hellboy draws from the Marvel Cinematic Universe style, tossing in a couple of post-credit scenes setting the table for a Hellboy universe. Some of the pre-credit scenes (read: scenes in the movie) are doing that same work and not really contributing to this film. Shave those off, and this Hellboy is a half hour shorter and a better, 90-minute film. As is, there are places where it feels overstuffed.
With rumors running rampant about behind the scenes drama, it’s hard not to speculate about what exactly Marshall and Cosby wanted to have in and what they were forced to put in. The rise of super-producers like Kevin Feige helming Marvel and Kathleen Kennedy helming Star Wars, it’s become a familiar story. When budgets get this big, business can get in the way of art.
Some of those slightly irrelevant scenes did lead to some amazing creature designs. My favorite monster was a giant demon with a blade for an elbow. It scooped people into the crook of its arm before closing it, dismembering them. The gore is as over-the-top as the monsters, featuring a number of eyes being plucked or stabbed, dovetailing with the film’s punk rock aesthetic.
The stacked cast, especially David Harbour, put in solid performance to underscore those gruesome moments. Harbour had a tough job, acting under massive prosthetics, but imbues the character with heart. Ian McShane brings his classic no-bulls*** gruffness to Professor Broom. Daniel Dae Kim sneaks humanity into a stiff veneer as Major Ben Daimo.
The special features of the Blu-Ray don’t delve into the behind-the-scenes drama, instead focusing on character design and how the actors prepared. “Ye Gods and Devils: Creatures and Gear” is the most interesting, giving viewers a window into how the monster design was approached. There’s also a set of “Previsualization,” allowing viewers to see what the fights looked like on their way to being fully rendered.
Of course, none of this answers the question I had when the film was announced: How does Neil Marshall’s Hellboy stack up to Guillermo Del Toro’s films about the character? It’s not a fair comparison, but I would bet has a lot to do with this film’s negative reception. The Del Toro films are cleaner, better written, and more beautifully shot. None of that takes away from what this Hellboy is doing well, though.
Hellboy is available on video on demand now. The 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack will be released July 23, 2019.
Wicked Rating – 6/10
Director: Neil Marshall
Writers: Andrew Cosby, Mike Mignola (based on The Dark Horse Comic created by)
Stars: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim
Release Date: July 23, 2019 (4K Ultra HD Combo Pack and Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Studio/Production Company: Summit Entertainment, Millennium Films
Run Time: 120 minutes