Despite a potentially compelling lead, Hellboy is a surprisingly boring superhero epic that drags between sequences of fantasy action spectacle.
Based on the comics by Mike Mignola, the new Hellboy movie additionally serves as a reboot of the big screen franchise that previously consisted of Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. However, when plans fell through for Hellboy 3, the studio decided to take the series in a new direction by rebooting it and casting a new actor in the role of Hellboy, with David Harbour taking the reins from Ron Perlman. It was promised the new movie would be more faithful to Mignola's original comics, with a script by Andrew Cosby (Eureka) and directed by Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones), but Hellboy suffers from pacing issues that may arise directly from so closely adapting the comics. Despite a potentially compelling lead, Hellboy is a surprisingly boring superhero epic that drags between sequences of fantasy action spectacle.
Boiling the plot of Hellboy down to its most basic, the film is about Hellboy (Harbour) teaming up with allies of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) in an effort to prevent the ancient witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the Blood Queen, from wiping out all of mankind. The movie operates as an origin story for Hellboy, offering insight into where he came from and why his adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), chose to raise him as a son. But the film also offers slightly more abridged origin stories for the other members of Hellboy's B.P.R.D. team: Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). With side stories that take Hellboy in different directions to battle giants, deal with a faerie changeling and face off with Baba Yaga, Hellboy throws everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer but fails to tie it all together compellingly.
The pacing issues of Hellboy may be the result of sticking too close to Mignola's comics as the movie has a sense of jumping from one story to the next with the Blood Queen as the loose connective tissue - similar to how comics tell a story per issue, but link together for an overarching tale. However, when that storytelling method is translated to the screen, it has more of a disjointed feel as Hellboy takes far too much time to get to the real main conflict of the movie, then wraps it up quicker than expected. Further, because so much time is spent on side stories and quests, it takes time away from developing the main characters of Hellboy. Rather, Cosby's script does more telling than showing, explicitly laying out Hellboy's inner conflict of whether he believes he's a good person or not. It has the makings of a compelling character story, but much of it gets drowned out by everything else going on. Nimue, Alice and Ben receive similarly heavy-handed character arcs that are clunky and ham-fisted into the already overcrowded storyline.
Where the movie excels, perhaps, is in its fantastical action sequences insofar as they offer largely enjoyable spectacle. Marshall's direction makes for exhilarating fighting scenes that are almost on par with the episodes of Game of Thrones he directed: "Blackwater" and "The Watchers on the Wall." Because of his experience, Marshall handles the battle scenes of Hellboy well, though they have the feeling of a cinematic TV movie more than a blockbuster film. Still, the sheer absurdity of certain Hellboy action scenes is entertaining enough for the viewer to just go along for the ride. It's in these scenes that Hellboy earns its R rating, too, using it to gruesome effect. Much of the bloody violence in Hellboy seems to be included simply for the sake of it. So viewers who dislike too much gore will want to be forewarned there is a lot in Hellboy.
Hellboy has all the potential of an epic superhero movie with an intriguingly atypical hero in Harbour's Hellboy; a strong cast that includes the likes of Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim and Milla Jovovich; and a whole host of known folktales and lore to draw on and adapt to a modern fantasy blockbuster. However, Hellboy throws too much into one two-hour movie and the overcrowded story ends up dragging down what could have been a compelling character examination of Harbour's hero. Hellboy seems overly concerned with adapting everything from the comics that fans may love and less focused on a telling an entertaining standalone story. The result is a movie that may be more faithful to the comics, but struggles to keep viewers invested in everything going on for its full two hours.
Ultimately, Hellboy may be worth a watch for fans of the original comics, or those interested in seeing a different take on the character than del Toro and Perlman's. However, in a month as crowded with superhero movies as April, Hellboy may be the most missable of the bunch. The movie has its merits, and the fantasy spectacle may be worth seeing on a big screen, but it's a middle of the road fantasy-action film; it's not bad enough to be so-bad-it's-good and not good enough to be widely appealing. Instead, Hellboy seems bound to be a misfire that quickly gets overshadowed by bigger blockbusters arriving in the coming weeks.
Hellboy is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 121 minutes long and rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language.
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- Hellboy (2019) release date: Apr 12, 2019