Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church
Director: Neil Marshall
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release Date: 12th April 2019
Jo S: A gigantic surfeit of entrails and poorly thought-through origin stories without the grace to properly exploit the innate metal coolness opportunities of the source material, this shambles of a movie seems to serve mostly as a massive cannibal stew of unrecognisable chunks of what might be a good story but which are handled in such a rush, or so ham-fistedly, they lose their impact. Noting its 15 rating, I can’t help but wonder whether the continual depiction of guts and gore, splattering and rending of bodies both human and monstrous, slicing, dicing and dismemberment would put my nearly-15-year-old off a full English breakfast for the rest of his life, and it’s a measure of how weak the story was in this movie that, for me, this was probably the most appealing part of the movie - there was zero shying away from depicting the full grossness of actual murdering (albeit the kind of murdering that doesn’t result in a lasting death in all cases).
To take a slightly more upbeat view, there were some terrific monsters, with huge originality: Baba Yaga’s twisted form was gruesome and terrifying, an invasion of Hell-creatures included some truly inventive ideas, exceptionally well rendered, and there was a pleasing nod to An American Werewolf In London with the transformation scene for one of the key characters. Gruagach, a kind of warthog anthropomorphic demon, was superb (at least once I’d tuned in to his richly Scouse accent). By contrast, the costume and details for Hellboy himself were far less effective; the ‘Right Hand of Doom’ entirely unconvincing in its weight, looking very much more like foam rubber than stone, the horn-stumps looking moulded rather than broken, even in the scene where they’re apparently being filed down, and his tail looking more like a loose dressing gown cord than the devilish prehensile arrangement depicted in the comics.
So many character origin stories were flung into the mix, it’s distressingly evident that this is intended to be the first of a series: Lobster Johnson gets a cursory introduction, the Big Evil is dismembered Blood Queen Nimue (played in a weirdly disjointed (sorry) manner by Milla Jovovich), the Osiris Club and their seer Lady Hatton give the reason for the location of the bulk of the story in Britain (though it gave me a grin to note that the inappropriate naming of the New Forest, as in, it hardly has any actual trees, seems to have been lost on the writers), Alice Monaghan (a girl granted special powers after being kidnapped by the faerie as a baby) adds to the heart of the story which is also amply provided by Hellboy’s relationship with his dad. This father-son connection is actually very touchingly played; McShane deals with it with subtlety, and it can’t have been an easy call for Harbour underneath all those prosthetics.
An Arthurian legend forms the backdrop to the story - yawn - why use something so unoriginal? Elements of backstory are retconned to fit in a manner the writers should frankly be ashamed of: unnecessary mythology is lazily shoehorned into place and inconsistently followed-up on. I was disappointed with the music, personally: Hellboy, of all comic book characters, must surely be the one to stride about to some serious metal, or something with a giant choral freak-out, but there were moments where the score failed to add the required gravitas to proceedings - too many opportunities missed, for me. I think this is probably the greatest crime committed, then: the Hellboy character is nonchalant, he’s grittily funny, he’s violent and he’s deeply conflicted and, most of all, he’s cool. This movie failed to deliver that, in the large part, and piling offal all over it couldn’t rescue it. I don’t think I’ll be partaking of any follow-ups. 4/10