Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy films, particularly his secomd film 2008’s Hellboy: The Golden Army, were clearly the work of an imaginative and creative director building on the concept of characters created by Mike Mignola. That film was packed with memorable scenes featuring a cast of fantastical but memorable characters. The troll market scene in particular, which features a cornucopia of creatures mostly realised with practical special effects work, is a distinct highlight.
Ron Perlman earned himself a legion of fans for his portrayal of ‘Big Red’. Both films managed to get a good balance of the whimsical and the fantastical, a scene where Perlman’s Hellboy and Abe Sapien (played by Doug Jones and voiced by David Hyde Pierce) drunkenly discuss Barry Manilow is a great example.
A proposed Hellboy III was in limbo for years ( because del Toro lost interest in the franchise according to producer Lloyd Levin) before this new film was announced. Hellboy aka ‘Big Red’ is still arguably the character many associate Ron Perlman with. Perlman has talked about his frustration of the third film never materialising and how Hellboy was this obscure character nobody knew about.
Enter director Neil Marshall the director of cult hits like Dog Soldiers and The Descent as well as directing several episodes of Game of Thrones amongst other things.
Neil Marshall’s Hellboy, with a script from Andrew Crosby, seems like it’s come through a time vortex from the mid 90’s. As though every film based on a comic book character since the first Blade film back in 1998 hasn’t happened.
Hellboy (played by David Harbour this time around) ends up helping the BPRD on a globe hopping quest to stop ancient sorceress Nimue aka The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) destroying life on earth. Hellboy is helped by medium of sorts Alice (Sasha Lane), BPRD agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae-Kim) and his ‘father’ Professor Broom (This time played by Ian McShane).
Whilst Marshall is definitely a capable director, The Descent is still one of the best post 2000 horror films, Hellboy is undeniably a mess of a film. Reports emerged of alleged clashes between Marshall and producers on set which might explain why this is such a mess.
A prologue shows King Arthur and Merlin defeating Nimue, with Arthur cutting her into pieces with Excalibur. The pieces sealed into crates are buried around Britain. Unfortunately this set up is squandered as nearly half the running time is wasted on exposition dumps, flash backs and scattered interludes before the film actually gets back to what is supposed to be its central plot and story.
So much time is devoted to the backstories of the various characters Hellboy finds himself working with, along with various other interludes, that it kills any semblance of story. Despite a 2 hour run time it never gives you any reason to care about any of the characters or anything that’s happening to them.
Whilst the handful of prosthetic creatures that feature are excellent they highlight how terrible most of the the digital FX are in comparison, a scene where Hellboy takes on three giants is laughably bad and looks like a cutscene from a low budget PS3 game.
The main selling point for this new film seems to be ‘this one is R rated’ i.e it’s allowed to be more ‘adult oriented’ and ‘this one is more like the comics’, neither of these things in and of themselves mean a film is going to be good or bad. Being ‘more like the comics’ seems to have been a problem though. As Marvel Studios continues to be a box office juggernaut it’s easy to forget the world of U.S comics is tiny, the number one selling selling US comic for January 2019 sold a little over 116,000 copies. That in itself doesn’t translate into a box office hit as Hellboy’s opening weekend of just $12 million demonstrates.
Milla Jovovich who stars as Nimue has taken to Instagram to defend the film saying it’s destined to become a cult classic like other films she has starred in which didn’t make big money at the box office or impress critics, only time will tell.