Fans of Guillermo del Toro's original Hellboy films largely did not anticipate the 2019 reboot, and those who did were cautiously optimistic. The film, indeed, was a box-office flop, but not for all of the reasons everyone predicted. While Ron Perlman's shoes were big to fill, David Harbour could have been a great Hellboy had he been given a better script.
Still, the new film had a few highlights that could have worked really well in the original two, making the film, as Harbour himself said, enjoyable enough as a rental—as long as you have no expectations for it in the first place.
10 Better: Cinematography
To be fair, much of this is simply due to the advanced technology available between Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but the new film had some stylish cinematography that the other two could have really benefited from, particularly during the scenes that were literally dark where it was difficult to see anything.
As cool as those tooth fairy scenes, not to mention the original's Sammael sequences, were, we have to admit that had today's sharper imagery and editing were available, they would have been even better. The sad thing is that this gorgeously gruesome imagery was wasted on a flop of a film.
9 Worse: Writing
The Hellboy reboot failed abysmally with critics, with a rotten score of 16%, and audiences barely liked it with a score of 59%. This is largely due to the film's writing. Many critics have dubbed the movie as soulless, without the imagination that del Toro so famously infused into Mike Mignola's already cool source material.
From a dumb inclusion about King Arthur to some cool stories that would've worked better had they been explored more in depth (Hellboy trying to rescue a fellow agent from vampires and an early case of his mentioned in a few minutes of the film, either of which would have been better full movies), there's no solid story here, but a string of events written to simply deliver a bunch of blood and guts. There's nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of horror movies written the same way for people who really just want to see the blood and guts. But for those who actually like Red and his stories, it's an absolute tragedy.
8 Better: The Monsters
The good news is that if you're going to watch the Hellboy reboot with the intention of seeing a lot of monsters, you won't be disappointed. There are a bunch of them, from giants to vampires, fairies and demons to Baba Yaga herself. Most of the creatures come off as cool, with some of them even better in the CGI department than the ones we saw in the Goblin Market during Golden Army.
If only that were enough to save this movie. The cool monsters are fun to look at but it gets silly after a while, seeing so many without any connection between them or meaning in their deaths. The one pig-like fairy who gets an actual plot associated with him is more of a joke than anything else.
7 Worse: The Sidekicks
Where are Abe and Liz Sherman when you need them? While del Toro took major artistic license with Mignola's characters, transforming HB and Liz into a couple instead of the sibling-like duo they were in the comics, it actually worked and made us enjoy the new twist on the characters.
The new sidekicks, Ben Daimio and Alice Monaghan, are also from the source material, but they aren't engaging or even all that helpful. Where Liz will burn a whole room of baddies, Alice's visions can't even tell her that there are a bunch of witches about to come up out of the ground to attack them. Where Abe is sharp and eager to use his powers, Daimio is a sullen monster hater with internalized hatred toward himself as a were-jaguar. Both could've been cool characters had they been given proper character development.
6 Better: Professor Broom
Ian McShane is fabulous as the antihero and he gave Professor Broom a cool new look and feel. He's obviously using HB in many ways, even if he still considers him his son, and there are both intimate moments they share as well as times of pure frustration with one another that are made to feel much more explosive than the previous Hellboy films depicted.
His character definitely wasn't written perfectly, complete with some goofy lines, dumb decisions and dubious motives, not to mention moments of sheer idiocy where we wonder if he knows HB's going in on a suicide mission or not, but it was a fun take on a more energetic, darker Broom.
5 Worse: Professor Broom
While McShane's Broom was more of a dark tough guy, our beloved John Hurt was also a treat in the original series. Much more nuanced in his old age, he delivered a softer, yet still strong, performance that really fit better with his demise than the reboot's. McShane's ending scene, complete with his spirit talking through Alice, was just dumb.
Kevin Trainor was also wonderful as a young Broom in the original film, and we can't help but wonder if del Toro isn't given the green light for a third film, why not make a few prequels along that vein? Old cases featuring the team might not fall into line with his vision but they sure would be fun to watch.
4 Better: The Gore
While it definitely seemed like this movie was built for the gore alone, we have to admit that it was fun, at least at times, to witness HB not only beat up the monsters to a bloody pulp, but to even recover from his own harrowing injuries. One of the best scenes involved him battling a bunch of giants, and it relied solely on his own grit and style of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fighting. It was one of the few moments that really felt like Hellboy and the gore added to it.
Unfortunately this can't be said for the whole film, especially when the ridiculous main villain, Nimue, talks to him with her head chopped off, or when her body's being rebuilt. These are things we could see happening in the comics but they just didn't weren't done well here. A bit more gore could have been fun in del Toro's movies.
3 Worse: Tone
The Hellboy reboot can't make up its mind about its genre. Is it horror? Is it action? Is there humor? It's fine to cross genre lines and create something new and cool if it works, but it just doesn't. The humorous parts are already rare, and when they're implemented they don't flow with the rest of the feature.
The tone of the movie is inconsistent as well. There's a threat to Hellboy's life that's pretty much dropped, there's a Blood Queen whose own goals keep changing, and there are a bunch of auxiliary baddies who just randomly pop in and out without relevance to the movie's plot. The original HB productions featured fewer creatures, but they always factored into the plot.
2 Better: Elements Of Danger
If del Toro's movies had anything truly lacking in them, aside from the "I Can't Smile Without You" duet, it was the lack of real danger to Hellboy who, let's face it, should always be in danger. We see agents taken down around him and it's terrible, but the only time he's really near death is when he's struck by Prince Nuada's poisoned spear. Even then it doesn't feel like it's as dangerous as it should.
In the reboot, HB really looks like he's not going to make it after a brutal battle with the Osiris Club, and Baba Yaga really appears to be someone who could do him harm (even if she makes no sense as she both attacks him and plots with a pig fairy behind his back). These add great dramatic tension to the story and could have been great given better execution.
1 Worse: All The Plot Holes
This movie's plot has more holes than Louis Sachar's book. There's never an explanation given as to why Baba Yaga wants Gruagach to enact his revenge now, or why Nimue feels like it's a good time to return, or why the Osiris Club decides it's time to finally take HB out. The plot with King Arthur, Merlin and Hellboy's heritage makes zero sense. Even if it's comic canon, it still wasn't depicted well for the movie and felt like it needed its own story separate from many of the piecemeal stories thrown in with it.
Wielding Excalibur gave HB control of the army of the dead, but when did he issue commands for demons to just destroy the city? They just kind of do it at will. Why does he not deal with Baba Yaga, who is actually eating kids and is the most gruesome character in the movie? That might have been a better story altogether. What happened to all the creatures Nimue commanded, including the witches, and what were their story? Nothing works together in this movie, which is why it ultimately failed at the box office.