Production Companies: Millennium Media, Lawrence Gordon Productions, Dark Horse Entertainment, Nu Boyana and Campbell Grobman Films
Director: Neil Marshall
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Mike Richardson, Philip Westgren, Carl Hampe, Matt O’Toole, Les Weldon and Yariv Lerner
Scriptwriter: Andrew Cosby
Main Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Stephen Graham and Douglas Tait
Released: April 12 2019
Running Time: 121 Minutes
A typical battle of good vs. evil, or perhaps less evil vs. truly evil: on one side, you have a monstrous yet well-intentioned being, and on the other you have a demonic queen resurrected to cause havoc, assisted by a hog-like figure … with a Scouse accent?
Welcome to the modern version of Hellboy, where director Neil Marshall attempts to take the franchise into a direction marked “different”, but the tactics used (and those that are either not used or only explored slightly) ensure that while he achieves its goal, it isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The film opens with King Arthur of all people slaying the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), and using his famous Excalibur sword to separate her body parts (which is putting it mildly), though her head is somehow still operational after being buried away from her other remains. As you may wonder whether you’ve stepped into the right section of your cinema, we fast-forward to the modern day where we find Hellboy (David Harbour), a super-sized behemoth from the depths of Hell (his name is a clue) with red skin, minding his own business in Tijuana, Mexico.
After reluctantly killing an associate during a Lucha Libre event (his peace time didn’t last very long), Hellboy is sent to Great Britain to tackle a trio of giants, during which time he learns more about his own origins, and the murky circumstances that his human father Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) brought him into the world, seemingly to kill him as part of a Nazi German project. As it turns out, his giant-killing task does not exactly go as planned, and before we know it, he’s in a council flat in London (presumably).
Cooking breakfast for him is stereotypical adolescent Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), a medium who once benefitted from Hellboy’s assistance, and shortly thereafter, they are tracked down by Trevor to embark on the real mission, alongside Ben Daimio (Daniel DAE Kim). That would be to tackle the fall-out from the resurrection and stitching-back-together of Nimue with the help of the aforementioned hog-like Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham, but with motion provided by Douglas Tait) who gate-crashed a silent prayer meeting to locate the parts of the fallen Blood Queen of yesteryear. And so the pieces are put in place for the conflict that is ultimately the main premise for this movie.
It sounds fairly straight-forward, but it really isn’t. For starters, if one didn’t know the full story of Hellboy before watching this film, they would have no idea why he is the hero given his appearance and potential to wreak pure havoc, especially since this is deemed to be a prequel. A number of situations that arise as the story is being told seem to have been picked out of a hat, such is their lack of connection to one another, as are the locations. England makes sense, but why was Hellboy moonlighting in Mexico, for example?
These are just the starting points of questions that the viewer has to ask themselves, or to rhetorically ask the creative bods who scripted this film. King Arthur and Merlin make appearances that seem to be an attempt at a mythical character crossover as opposed to being a coherent, logical blend of remotely-related personas. Some key elements of the story are over and done with very quickly, while other lesser scenarios are dragged out longer than the Brexit crisis. Character building is almost nonexistent, while a number of the key players have no real reason to be there, other than to simply have somebody, anybody, in those roles.
The tone sits somewhere between comedy, horror and action. I’ll come back to the first of these elements shortly (the attempts at humour mostly misfire, with one major exception that I’ll address in the next paragraph), but right now I’ll note how this results in a mix of emotions during many scenes that is presumably meant to provide us with an oxymoron, but instead makes us wonder if the director was simply a moron. Why are we hearing pulse-racing rock music during tragic assaults? Why does the CGI seem fantastic and almost intentionally poor, at times within seconds of each other? Why is the gravity of a situation severely harmed by the context of the dialogue? And there are other problems: how come certain characters literally have no purpose? Did Neil Marshall read into the personality traits and origins of Hellboy before writing a movie that seems to rewrite the character’s history? Is there a reason why some superpowers are almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-them? Why are some clothes removed as humans transform into monsters, but other items aren’t? Who told some of the actors and actresses that they could act? Why did Mr. Smith kill everybody? (Okay, I made that last one up; bonus points if you get the reference.)
And then there is that Scouse accent bizarrely handed to the NaMs character. Now, I was totally not expecting this (why would I be?), but I have to admit that Stephen Graham is fantastic. It feels like he is ad-libbing his lines based on the slang that he believes would define a villain from his hometown, as opposed to somebody scripting these remarks for him. Most of his dialogue is foul-mouthed, and much of it is just – at times, there are no words to describe what he comes out with. Okay, I’ve got one: hilarious. The most brutal Scouse insults possible are used, which given Graham’s particularly heavy accent makes for some priceless one-liners (I wont provide spoilers, as some have to be heard to be believed in a film like this). But he’s meant to be an evil hog-like creature in a superhero movie; why on earth is this even a thing? It’s brilliant to hear if you’re a Brit, or at least a Liverpudlian, but you’ll be baffled if you’re an American viewer, partly because it changes the tone of the movie entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I feel the movie is stronger because of this – it was the highlight of the whole film for me, though I’m occasionally prone to giggling at naughty words – but it’s just so … random, which sums this up as a whole.
It isn’t all bad. Some of the action scenes are climatic and exciting. There are numerous times when you’re left wondering what can possibly happen next. The pace is relatively fast (it may often be illogical, but it’s infrequently dull). The CGI effects that do succeed are very impressive. David Harbour is believable and, as far as the personality of his character would allow, likeable as Hellboy. There is certainly no shortage of effort in ensuring this is in some way memorable to the viewer, as well as there clearly being a massive budget to bring this tale to life on the big screen. If you like blood and gore, you won’t be disappointed (if anything, you’ll be fed up at seeing claret pouring out long before the ending). And if nothing else, at least Neil Marshall has tried to think outside the box in delivering a unique, R-rated take on the Hellboy persona.
But being alternative and deviating from the norm doesn’t necessarily mean that the output will be of a high quality, which is highlighted spectacularly with this version of Hellboy. There is enough going on to maintain your interest, and if you try to not think too carefully about what is happening and just take it for what it is, you might find it pretty entertaining. But diehard fans of the franchise, and of superhero films in general, will be left scratching their hands and at times feeling the urge to scream, so it’s no wonder that this has been heavily panned since its release. I will be a bit more generous with my final analysis, partly because that Scouse accent tickled me so much. Nevertheless, it’s a case of “must try harder next time” for the director after seeing this movie, though it’s debatable as to whether he will get another stab (sword, stab … get it? Oh never mind) at a film with the scale and complexity of Hellboy.
Overall Rating: 5/10 – Average