The best thing I can say about Neil Marshall’s reboot of Hellboy is that it lets you know it will be terrible from the opening scene. Ian McShane tells us about King Arthur, Merlin, et al. stopping the Blood Queen, and aside from horrible writing that drops in swear words for no reason and diminishes the seriousness of the prologue, we’re treated to extensive gore as the Blood Queen is hacked to bits and sealed away in boxes. On the surface, it seems like the gothic lore mixed with the modern-day edge that made Mike Mignola’s comics endearing. But in execution, everything about the new Hellboy is an utter chore. The story is loaded down with dry exposition, needless set-ups, muddled character motivation, and it hopes you’ll just be on board with excess gore even though it looks cheap and tacky. But worst of all, Hellboy just isn’t fun. It saps the energy from its title character and then tries to make up the difference with painful attempts at edginess.
The new Hellboy crams a bunch of plots into one with only the loosest of connections. The film starts out telling us about the threat of the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) who might rise again to bring about a plague upon the world. Meanwhile, Hellboy (David Harbour), who goes to Tijuana to save his friend but ends up killing him instead (whoops!) is tasked by his adopted father Professor Bruttenholm (McShane) and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense to attend the Wild Hunt in England and take out some giants. This eventually leads Hellboy to cross paths with spirit medium Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and soldier Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) as they go on a quest to stop the Blood Queen from regaining her power. Meanwhile, the Blood Queen to tries to lure Hellboy to her side and show him that he should be a monster who leads monsters rather than a monster who kills monsters in service of humans.
When you read the Hellboy comics, what jumps out at you immediately is how Mignola has blended gothic horror and dark fantasy with an average joe. Hellboy may be a demon meant to bring about the apocalypse, but because he was raised by humans, he has the attitude of a blue-collar worker. That contrast—supernatural events met with a mundane approach—is the spark to Hellboy, and it’s largely missing here. The reboot can never find the right tone, so all of the weird stuff comes off as unintentionally comic and all the intentional humor fall flat. Buckets of blood don’t make a horror movie, and one-liners don’t make a comedy. There’s no soul to this movie, and so it relies on lazy shorthand at every step rather than successfully channeling Mignola’s comics.
Even if you’re a fan of those comics and don’t believe Guillermo del Toro did them justice with this 2004 movie and 2008 sequel, Hellboy: The Golden Army, you can at least tell that del Toro cares deeply about this character and the world he inhabits. The most Marshall’s film seems to care about is if it can gross the audience out with another sick kill. But all that blood and gore just blends together, partially because it looks like it was put together using PlayStation 2 graphics, and partially because violence in this movie is empty. Rather than dig into the weird side of Hellboy, the filmmakers just go for gore and violence to appeal to the teenage boys who can’t buy a ticket to this movie without a parent or guardian. You can say that worked for Deadpool, but in Deadpool the jokes are funny and the action is competently put together. Neither is true for 2019’s Hellboy.
If Hellboy weren’t so incredibly boring, it would be almost impressive to see it do nothing right. Harbour isn’t necessarily bad as Hellboy, but the movie doesn’t even give him much of a conflict until the Blood Queen comes along midway through the movie. It’s hard to inject much personality when the character motivation is so fuzzy. Visually, the film is an ugly gray mess, and the set pieces are jumbled as hell. It should be a blast to watch Hellboy take on three giants, and instead it’s just loads of CGI blood pouring out of weightless CGI characters. And then you later see that it’s just a set piece for a set piece’s sake and they could have moved the story along much faster by cutting the Wild Hunt stuff. You could easily remove 30 minutes out of Hellboy and not lose anything important. But instead we have to trudge through characters vomiting exposition at every turn and worthless action scenes. Watching Hellboy be a bland, ugly, boring movie for 100 minutes I was left wondering why the movie wasn’t dumped direct to video.
The new Hellboy seems designed to appeal to absolutely no one other than people who don’t know what good movies look like. It’s certainly not going to appeal to the fans of del Toro’s Hellboy movies which, while they may depart from the books, still have a craftsman care, detail, and attention to story (The Golden Army more so than 2004’s Hellboy). I doubt it’s for fans of the books because while there is violence in those stories, it never feels excessive or childish like it does in Marshall’s movie. And if it’s for the casual moviegoer, they can see blood and guts done competently in a supernatural setting loads of other places. People aren’t that hard-up for over-the-top violence. Hellboy is a movie for no one, and no one should really go see it unless they want a crash course in how an adaptation of good source material can go horribly wrong.