I have never been very invested in the Hellboy despite my best efforts to approach Mike Mignola‘s character with an open mind. Regardless, I would say I was hopeful that director Guillermo del Toro would have the opportunity to complete the Trilogy of films he started in 2004. I can’t say I was surprised that a third film was never green-lit, but I am a little surprised they decided to go back to the well for another film. In 2004, the original Hellboy film was launched with positive reviews for an otherwise abysmal run at the worldwide box-office, grossing around one-hundred million off a budget of nearly seventy million. Unless the film majorly over-performed on the home-market, there is no way del Toro’s film broke-even, and yet, a sequel arrived four years later with an even heftier budget of eighty-five million! The film fared better than its predecessor, grossing over one-hundred and fifty million at the box-office, but, once again, Hellboy II: The Golden Army failed to recoup its expenditures in theaters.
As inspired and creative as del Toro is, a lot of his film don’t fare well at the box-office, and the luscious cinematography often comes with a hefty price-tag as well. Or, at least, that is one of the theories what might suggest when trying to explain the lack of Hellboy’s mainstream appeal. Another one, which I think is every bit as credible, is that Hellboy is weird and thereby, it’s something I believe either needs a thoughtful marketing campaign or to capture the zeitgeist by happenstance to achieve a significant level of success.
This film, the 2019 superhero film, Hellboy is directed by Neil Marshall, with David Harbour (not Ron Perlman) donning the shaven horns and angry fist, alongside a cast comprised of Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, and Thomas Haden Church. The film’s development began as a third installment in the franchise but shortly became a reboot of the series altogether, it draws inspiration from a hodgepodge of different Hellboy comic books.
Unlike the last two films, Hellboy was released to a largely negative response and, even worse so than earlier installments, was its box-office return. Although I would most certainly deem the others as financial disappoints, this film, on the other-hand, was an absolute bomb, grossing less than forty-five million off a production budget of fifty million. The film sees our Hellboy character struggle with an existential crisis, yearning to find a purpose in this world. Meanwhile, however, evil has awakened. In 517 A.D., an evil Blood Queen named Vivienne Nimue unleashed a plague that wreaked havoc throughout England before being beheaded and severed into pieces by King Arthur. Now, in modern times, the Blood Queen has returned and our horny friend is tasked with stopping her.
As prefaced, Hellboy is a unique concept to say the least, and, because of that, it requires the freedom to embrace its eccentricities while maintaining a disciplined hand to make certain it stays coherent. I enjoyed Neil Marshall‘s horror film The Descent, but I am saddened to say that this film, on the other-hand, is nearly worst case scenario. It isn’t the most awful film you will ever see, or anything that harsh, but it’s a tonal juxtaposition and a rough adventure to say the least. Even if I would have preferred Ron Perlman reprising the role of Hellboy, I was happy with the announcement that David Harbour from Stranger Things fame would take over.
Unfortunately, whether it was because the way he was written or the performance itself, I was never endeared to him in this role. The character feels dim and cliched, spouting off one-liners and statements that feel cringe worthy at the best of times. The violence is gory and over-the-top, which is what you would want from a Hellboy film, however, it doesn’t feel inspired nor enjoyable to see. The special-effects are large and yet, they feel weightless. The visuals feel like money was thrown at them, but not time and consideration for how the best would be brought out of them for the film.
The film is conventional on a basic level. The idea is that Hellboy is searching for himself and the Blood Queen is seeking world domination. And, yet, so little of it works. The humor never lands, and, in-fact, offers a groan-worthy response on-par with something like R.I.P.D., and the inclusion of folklore comes off ham-fisted and like it wasn’t allotted the chance to develop itself beyond general concept. It feels confusing, to be honest, and, after having watched the film from start to finish, I reflect on it as a collection of scenes and not as a cohesive film. Unless I really think about it and replay the movie over in my head, I’m left with nothing particularly impressionable about the film.
The best way I can describe my experience watching this film is to say that it felt like a film with an agenda. I remember when Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel came out and everyone criticized the DC Extended Universe‘s direction, saying they were trying too hard to be dark and gritty. This film feels like it is trying too hard to come across as edgy and bad-ass, and by feeling so transparent in its intent, it accomplishes neither feat.
Maybe the best route for a successful Hellboy franchise isn’t on the big-screen, but a small-screen miniseries akin to HBO‘s recent Watchmen series, that way it has the proper amount of time to allocate to instilling worth in its protagonists and antagonists, and it would allow them the opportunity to better isolate themselves tonally. For now, however, the film we have been given is a disheveled mess and worse yet, it’s a very boring mess.