After two successful Hellboy film adaptations, can this reboot bring something fresh to the table?
When I first saw an image of Ron Pearlman as Hellboy, possibly in the first trailer for the original 2004 film directed by Guillermo Del Toro, something about the character clicked with me.
As I’ve probably said in other reviews or the many podcasts Will and I have recorded over the years, this sends me into a spiral of discovery about the film’s source material.
The first graphic novel I read was The Right Hand of Doom, written and drawn by Hellboy‘s creator Mike Mignola.
I fell in love with the whole universe of Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and their work with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD) and read as many stories as I could afford before the arrival of the first film.
I remember watching the first film at the cinema and thought it was a brilliant adaptation of Mignola’s work and Ron Pearlman was a perfect Hellboy.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army arrived a few years later in 2008 and was a rare case of a sequel outshining the original. The production design is so creative with a wondrous collection of both practical and CGI created creatures. The troll market scene alone is a wonderful example of the film’s beautiful design work.
However, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army left us all hanging for more. While the story itself does come to a conclusion of sorts, we’re left with the information that with Hellboy choosing to save his loved ones, he will fulfil his destiny in bringing Armageddon to the earth.
The years passed by and despite an outpouring from the fans, the film studios weren’t interested in the third outing for Hellboy.
Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), Hellboy (David Harbour) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim)
our history lesson jumps to May 2017 and it’s announced that the Hellboy story will be rebooted in a new film starring David Harbour, most famous for his role as Sherriff Jim Hopper in Netflix’s Stranger Things. The film will be directed by Neil Marshall.
The film’s production came and went with only one picture officially revealing Harbour as the titular demon. As time passed, the April 2019 release date loomed ever closer, nothing in terms of marketing seemed to be happening until December of 2018 when the first trailer was released.
It was terrible. As I explained upon its initial release, I have no idea what the marketing team was trying to achieve. Why the visuals looked good, the music and tone of the trailer were for me completely bonkers.
A second trailer with a much more traditional soundtrack and featuring a lot of blood reassured a lot of the fans.
The film was finally released in April this year to poor reviews from both critics and fans alike. The final box office takings were a paltry $46 million. When you consider that the film’s budget alone was $50 million, this film has flopped.
Reports have since surfaced that the director Neil Marshall, who broke into horror movies in the 2000s with Dog Soldiers, The Descent and who directed several episodes of Game of Thrones, clashed with the producers.
They fired his choice of director of photography and apparently tweaked and changed the film after Marshall handed in his final cut.
The lack of confidence in this film has been shown by its home media release in the US. Not only was it traditionally released on DVD and Blu-ray but was also dumped on Amazon Prime where members can watch it for free.
So, after such a long, depressing introduction, is the final film any good?
The Blood Queen, Vivian Nimue (Milla Jovovich) and her sister Ganeida (Penelope Mitchell)
The film opens in the Dark Ages of England where the blood queen, Vivian Nimue, has dispatched a plague across the country.
King Arthur, along with a little help from Merlin, defeats the Blood Queen with his sword Excalibur. She is dismembered and her limbs are placed in separate boxes that are magically sealed and dispersed across the country.
Fast forward to the present day and Hellboy has been sent to Mexico to retrieve a fellow BPRD agent, Esteban Ruiz. Unfortunately, Esteban was investigating vampires and it is revealed that he has been turned himself.
Hellboy tries to save Esteban in a fight that ultimately ends up with the vampire’s death. Esteban’s dying words are that Hellboy will bring about the end of the world.
Hellboy is recalled to BPRD headquarters in Colorado where the head of the organisation, his surrogate human father, Trevor Bruttenholm, sends him to England to help battle giants with their UK counterparts.
Meanwhile, a changeling fairy who has been stuck in the form of boar has been advised by the witch Baba Yaga to retrieve all the lost parts of the blood queen so he may get his wish for revenge on Hellboy.
Back at the Osiris Club in England, the club’s seer (a psychic medium) Lady Hatton, reveals that Bruttenholm was meant to kill Hellboy when he first came into the world as the result of the Nazis’ Project Ragnarok. Once again, Hellboy is told of his destiny to bring about the world’s end.
How will Hellboy stop the blood queen and not fulfil his destiny?
Lord Adam Glaren (Alistair Petrie) with Hellboy before the giant hunt.
The story is an amalgamation of several popular Hellboy graphic novels and at times feels like the film is suffering from too much source material. It’s almost as if they’re trying to create a greatest hits compilation.
However, what’s has been used has been wonderfully realised. Hellboy’s opening scene taken from the story Hellboy in Mexico features him fighting a human-sized vampire bat in a Mexican Lucha Libre wrestling ring. I have to admit, I wasn’t enjoying it until the bat made its appearance in its full form.
The Wild Hunt is another source for the film’s plotline that sees Hellboy fighting several giants in the English countryside. Whilst the fight itself is visually entertaining and does to show to what extremes of gore this film will rise to, I felt this is where some of the cracks started to show.
As previously mentioned, with a budget of $50 million, I guess some CGI work was stretched a little thin in places. There are several shots in there that to my eyes don’t quite work.
This can also be said of a major character in the film’s final moments who has a live-action head upon a GCI body. It simply doesn’t work for me and was the weakest special effects moment.
That said, this isn’t all negative. The witch Baba Yaga, based upon Russian folklore, is great. She moves around her house in a creepy, disturbing way and was one of the beast evil characters of the whole show.
The demon invasion of London at the film’s finale was one of the film’s highlights featuring some bizarre and disturbing creatures including the return of a Hellboy 2: The Golden Army character and a lot of gore.
Add to that list the changeling fairy Gruagach who has the anthropomorphic form of a boar. I loved his British thug like attitude who just wanted to get his revenge on Hellboy.
Hellboy fights off the undead!
But what of the real-life actors in the film?
The big question for me was can David Harbour portray Hellboy? For me, that’s an emphatic yes. Harbour portrays what feels like a younger, angrier demon and this alluded to with the amount of swearing which has been turned up a few notches. There are several F-Bombs in this film.
I have to admit that it took me quite a while to get used to Harbour’s makeup design which I found a little odd initially being a big fan of the original films.
Whilst I sort of accepted Ian McShane as Trevor Bruttenholm, it never felt quite right. I can’t put my finger on it. In my opinion, the late John Hurt portrayed him better in the original films, especially as he looks just like his comic counterpart.
Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan and Daniel Dae Kim as Ben Daimio were both good in their roles but due to obvious budget restraints poor Ben doesn’t get to reveal his party trick until the film’s climactic battle.
Finally, Milla Jovovich as Vivian Nimue, the Blood Queen was wonderfully evil with what screen time she has.
Well, this has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride of a review, some of the film I consider rather poor whilst other parts impressed.
I admit that after the initial press and fan reports I went into this film with the lowest of expectations. This was a reboot of a horror fantasy film on a lean budget of $50 million dollars (the original two films cost $66 million and $85 million).
Whilst watching the film, I could see the cracks in the CGI work, the story sometimes lurches from point to point and feels like it’s trying to appease fanboys with a little too much Hellboy lore.
Gruagach, the boar-like fairy.
And yet…I really enjoyed it. I found myself watching some scenes with a huge smile on my face and at several points, I was laughing out loud. I admit this film isn’t going to be for everyone but that’s a whole point of a film review, this is just my personal opinion.
Hellboy has a two-hour running time but it flies by quickly with never a dull moment on screen. The characters are never in one situation long enough that you lose interest.
What can I say? Go in with an open mind and low expectations and like me, you may be pleasantly surprised.
P.S. The film contains three ‘stingers’ during the end credits and I think it’s a shame that the referenced characters will not be realised in a sequel film.
This Hellboy reboot has its problems but I believe the end product outweighed them. I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed this film although being a Hellboy fan probably played a part in that. A Solid 3.5 stars.