[Review] Hellboy (2019) by Bede Jermyn

If there is one word over the pass couple of years that never fails to make many film fans roll their eyes at the mere mention of it when it comes to film franchises, that word would definitely be this one: reboot. No matter which franchise it is, they’ve all had experienced a reboot of sorts at some point during their run. Some have been either actual sequels, prequels or unique continuations of franchises that have been dormant for a number of years, while others have been full fledged total ones that disregard everything that has been cannon before in the series and started over from scratch. There’s no doubt that 2019 reboot of HELLBOY definitely falls into the latter category. While the first two films in the franchise HELLBOY (2004) and its 2008 sequel HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY both had character actor Ron Perlman starring as the title character and Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro at the helm, this reboot now has STRANGER THINGS star David Harbour playing the lead role of “Hellboy” and acclaimed British filmmaker Neil Marshall in the director’s chair. Did the HELLBOY reboot manage to deliver? Read on and find out!

The film tells the story of Hellboy (David Harbour), a demon from hell that was summoned during World War II by the Nazis but since turned his back on evil and became good by being a member of the organisation that deals with the supernatural called B.P.R.D.: Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence. After coming back from an assignment in Mexico, Hellboy is sent on mission by his adoptive father/boss Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) to go to England to help a secret society called The Osiris Club take of care of three man-eating giants terrorising the countryside. However when he gets there, Hellboy unwittingly gets involved into something much larger when an old nemesis from his past named Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham) seeks revenge against him by resurrecting an ancient and powerful sorceress from Arthurian times named Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), who is hellbent on destroying mankind and bring monsters back from the shadows. Knowing that he has to save the world from this evil, Hellboy teams up with a young medium that he once rescued named Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and a hard-edged M11 agent named Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) to stop Nimue once and for all.

Even though I have never read the original cult comic book series by Mike Mignola that they were based on, it didn’t stop me from enjoying both the original HELLBOY (2004) and the sequel HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY from director Guillermo del Toro. I found them both to be hugely entertaining superhero films that were a unique combination of fantasy, horror, fairy tales and monster films. Sadly when it was officially announced by del Toro that HELLBOY III was no longer happening after he spent years of trying to get it off the ground, I was severely disappointed. Especially since HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY ended on a note that made me excited to see where the third and final film in the trilogy was going to go. However when the news hit that producers behind the HELLBOY series had decided to reboot the franchise with a whole new creative team, I must admit that I was both intrigued if rather mixed on the whole idea. Plus it didn’t help that the trailers made it look pretty average. Now having seen the film, what did I think of it? Well, I’m not going to lie: I surprisingly really liked the HELLBOY reboot. I don’t know if it just due to having pretty low expectations for it, but I actually had an absolute blast with this film.

Now I can definitely see why a lot of people would probably hate this reboot: It’s trashy, disjointed, weird, extremely violent, shockingly gory, over-the-top, tonally uneven, foul-mouthed and lacks the sophistication/personal touch of Guillermo del Toros two HELLBOY films. However for me personally, that’s why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Director Neil Marshall’s reboot has its own tone and vibe that makes it stand on its own as a film. Imagine it this way: if the legendary ’80s film studio The Cannon Group did their own version of HELLBOY, it would definitely be this. While I know that there was some behind-the-scenes trouble between him and the producers, I thought that Marshall (the director of the acclaimed horror films THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS, and as well as episodes of TV’s GAME OF THRONES, WESTWORLD and HANNIBAL) still did a really good job on HELLBOY. He brings so much energy and thrills to the film with his direction that I honestly couldn’t help but be swept up by the madness that he was bringing onscreen. Plus he handled the film’s many shifting tones quite well and his action set pieces were a lot of fun in how they were crafted. Two in particular that I really enjoyed was the scene where “Hellboy” took on three giants and the entire insane third act, which reminded me so much of the over-the-top climax of the The Cannon Group produced 1985 British sci-fi/horror film LIFEFORCE. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in fact Marshall’s main inspiration to how he approached the ending of this film.

When it comes to the cast, I know that there’s one actor in particular that I know you all want to know about: David Harbour. So how did he do as “Hellboy”? Well, I have to say that I thought that Harbour did really well in the role. While it’s easily to compare his performance to Ron Perlman’s iconic take on the character since he does channel him in some certain aspects, Harbour still brought a lot of interesting layers to his “Hellboy” that at least made his take different from what we’ve seen before. Plus you can easily tell that Harbour was having an absolute ball playing the character. Plus he’s backed by a solid supporting cast as well. Ian McShane brought his trademark gravitas to his character of “Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm” (even if its quite similar other roles that he’s played before), Daniel Dae Kim was quite good as the no-nonsense “Ben Daimio”, Stephen Graham was memorable as the voice of the hog-like fairy “Gruagach” and Sasha Lane was the stand out as the very charismatic “Alice Monaghan”. Of the supporting cast, I definitely found Lane’s character the most compelling and I enjoyed her relationship with “Hellboy” in the film. On the technical side Lorenzo Senatore’s cinematography was both colourful and atmospheric, the score by Benjamin Wallfisch (IT, SHAZAM!, ANNABELLE: CREATION, BLADE RUNNER 2049) was excellent, the production/costume designs were impressive, the make-up and creatures effects were really well done (“Baba Yaga” in particular was very creepy creation), the soundtrack was killer and the gore was absolutely of the chain. Believe me this film definitely without a doubt deserves its R18+ here in Australia.

Now as much as I did enjoy HELLBOY (2019) in a lot of ways, there are quite a few aspects about it that I thought were rather flawed. While the script by Andrew Cosby was fine for what it was, I felt that he tried to cover too much ground with its story and the film just ended up being too over-plotted because of it. From what I understand is that he drew story elements from four separate HELLBOY story-lines from the comics as inspirations for this reboot’s plot (DARKNESS FALLS, THE WILD HUNT, THE SWORD AND THE FURY and HELLBOY IN MEXICO) but I think that if he just focused and used maybe only one or two of them, I think the film wouldn’t feel as over-stuffed as it does. Not only that he also retreads over some plot points that we saw done far better in the first HELLBOY films. Seriously did we really need to see another flashback to the origin of “Hellboy” again? Plus there were interesting elements that his script could have explored more but weren’t (the relationships between the characters, thematic elements, the struggle between “Hellboy” choosing between good or evil etc.). Sadly as much as I do like her an actress, I found Milla Jovovich a bit bland as the film’s villain “Nimue, the Blood Queen”. It probably didn’t help that I thought that her role was pretty underdeveloped and she didn’t have much to work with. Also when compared to the CGI work that was done in the previous HELLBOY films, most of the effects here are admittedly looked a bit shoddy. Although that being said, they didn’t bother me too much since the cheesiness of them did add more to my enjoyment of the film. Finally I did feel that some of the film’s humour fell completely flat at times too.

Overall while there’s a lot of things about this HELLBOY reboot that I know for certain everyone will not like at all (quite a number of people have already called this “one of the worst comic book films of all time”, which I think is a rather huge over-exaggeration but that’s just me) but I think that if you go into it in the right frame of mind and view it differently from the Guillermo del Toro versions, I think you’ll have really good time with it just like I did. Let me put it to you all this way: if the del Toro HELLBOY films were a beautiful and classically done symphony, this reboot is a loud and messy heavy metal album. In a lot ways HELLBOY (2019) reminds a lot of 2008 comic book THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, which is the only other film I can think of that can even compare to it’s unadulterated batshit insanity. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. However THE PUNISHER: WAR ZONE was able to overcome its critically maligned reputation to become a cult classic, I won’t be surprised if the HELLBOY reboot follows the path as well years from now. Yes, it’s definitely not a quality film by any means, but I still found it a fun ride nonetheless as a modern day spectacularly trashy big-budget Cannon Group style action/horror film.

Rating: 

HELLBOY (2019) is currently screening in cinemas across Australia.

Review written by Bede Jermyn

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