In the 11 years that have passed since Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a lot has changed in the world of comic book films. Superhero powerhouse Marvel Studios have released 21 films from its extensive repertoire, with the biggest and most ambitious comic book movie to date – Avengers: Endgame – just around the corner. Likewise, there’s a far greater platform for more ‘adult’ superhero films too (e.g. Deadpool and Logan). But being ‘more adult’ does not necessarily mean ‘more mature’, as this reboot – now boasting a 15 rating for strong violence, gore and language – is a categorically dumbfounding monstrosity.
Hellboy tells the tale of the titular Cambion, this time portrayed by David Harbour (Stranger Things), who works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (B.P.R.D) under the guidance of Ian McShane (American Gods) as his adopted father Trevor Bruttenholm. Hellboy is needed more than ever when 5th century enchantress Nimue, The Fifth Element’s Milla Jovovich, returns from the grave seeking to exact her revenge upon the world.
There is precious little to praise about Hellboy; Harbour takes the mantle (or the horns, one may say) from the legendary Ron Perlman rather pleasingly, bringing a natural charm to the role that many had anticipated he would.
But yeah, that’s essentially it. What goes on around him is an unbearable concoction of exaggerated gore, lacklustre CGI, abysmal dialogue and clumsy narrative focus which culminates to form a truly agonising movie experience. Director Neil Marshall takes all the unfavourable and overstated characteristics of modern blockbusters and heaps them into this two-hour mess, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the audience until it has produced a monster reminiscent of Hellboy himself. The astonishing and downright cringeworthy overuse of the F-bomb in Andrew Cosby’s screenplay further makes the film more uncomfortable to sit through (seriously, there are likely more in this than in two whole seasons of Game of Thrones).
Yet Mike Mignola, the creator of the original Hellboy comic series, commented that this film translates his original material more faithfully than previous instalments. This may be true in the sense that, like a typical comic book series, the film is driven by several side-plot missions with the overarching narrative of Jovovich’s Blood Queen tying it all together. But this just doesn’t work for the big screen. Instead what is produced is a clunky structure which gets increasingly frustrating over time; it’s near impossible to get a hold of what’s going on in Hellboy before something else comes to the immediate forefront.
The reliance on CGI takes a heavy toll too. It’s been demonstrated that Hellboy can feel authentic in Guillermo del Toro’s two frightening yet alluring films back in the 2000s; his filmmaking style seemed the perfect fit for these characters, but losing that natural wonder in favour of this horrid new fabrication leaves an even more bitter taste on the tongue than the film alone. It’s a painful viewing experience, not only because it’s a dreadful film, but because as you leave the cinema, the heart-breaking reality sets in that del Toro’s vision for a Hellboy trilogy will never be realised.
There’s a special place reserved in hell for this demonic abomination of a reboot. For a summer that is packed with popcorn spectacles and cinematic milestones alike, giving this one a miss wouldn’t be unwise.
Image credit: Movie DB