HELLBOY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Neil Marshall

Stars: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Sasha Lane, Thomas Haden Church, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Stanley, Brian Gleeson, Stephen Graham.

Daniel Dae Kim, David Harbour, and Sasha Lane in Hellboy (2019)

This is a messy, gory and visually ugly reboot of Hellboy, the graphic novel character originally brought to the screen by Guillermo del Toro in 2004. Here David Harbour (from the tv series Stranger Things, etc) steps into the role of the half demon/half human paranormal vigilante and defender against the forces of darkness played previously by Ron Perlman, and he gives us a different, more pugnacious take on the character. Hellboy himself was originally created in 1993 by comic book writer Mike Mignola, who has worked on the script here with first time feature writer Andrew Cosby (the tv series Eureka, etc) and remains faithful to the darker tone of the source material.

Hellboy trawls through England on the trail of the Blood Queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich, from the Resident Evil series, etc), a powerful fifth century sorceress with an unstoppable blood lust who was dismembered by King Arthur and her body buried in various locations across the country. But now she is being reassembled, which will supposedly bring about the end of the world, unless she can be killed again with the help of the legendary sword Excalibur. Driven by revenge, Nimue and her army of mythical creatures is preparing to unleash all sorts of apocalyptic chaos onto mankind. Hellboy is aided on his mission by the feisty medium Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane, from American Honey, etc), an acquaintance from his past who has some surprising magical abilities, and Ben Daimo (Daniel Dae Kim, from tv series Hawaii Five-0, etc, replacing Ed Skrein), a special forces operative with secret powers of his own.

Hellboy is based mainly on the comic The Wild Hunt and a narrative that spanned eight issues and was re-issued in the omnibus Hellboy Volume 9. It mixes a loose variation of the Arthurian legend with apocalyptic visions. This is a rather convoluted and confusing plot that lurches from one violent set piece to the next without any real sense of coherence. The highlight is the extended sequence in which Hellboy battles three giants armed with clubs and axes, a scene that could have come straight from a Terry Gilliam film.

The director is Neil Marshall, a genre specialist who has previously given us creepy and violent horror films like the claustrophobic The Descent and Dog Soldiers as well as a couple of spectacular action-driven episodes of Game Of Thrones. But, by all accounts, this was a troubled production. Here the film overdoses on some muddled and shoddy, heavily outdated CGI special effects that are in keeping with the comic book aesthetic that Marshall has deliberately gone for. But they pale in comparison to del Toro’s amazing visual panache and style. There is some unimaginative camerawork from cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore (Wonder Woman, etc), who replaced Marshall’s regular cinematographer Sam McCurdy during the shoot, while Martin Bernfeld’s hyperkinetic editing renders some of the action sequences virtually unwatchable. Marshall also ups the gore factor here with a high level of gratuitous violence that features lots of beheadings and blood spattering the sets, but the violence is cartoonish and mind-numbing. Hellboy certainly earns its R rating.

Harbour has the requisite physicality for the iconic role, and he is buried under layers of red prosthetics. He brings something of an irreverent approach to the material that is reminiscent of Deadpool, but without the self-deprecating wit and charm, and much of the cheesy one-liners and attempts at humour fall flat. Jovovich hams it up as the seductive but villainous ancient magical queen. Ian McShane (Deadwood, etc) replaces the late John Hurt as Dr Broom, Hellboy’s adoptive father and mentor and head of the fictitious Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, but he looks bored here and merely phones in his performance. Thomas Haden Church provides some comic relief as a character named Lobster Johnson, while Sophie Okonedo is largely wasted.

This unnecessary and tonally uneven reboot of Hellboy serves up a visual assault on the senses accompanied by a grating metal influenced soundtrack that falls short of the achievements of del Toro’s two films in the series. And we don’t get to see how the various unfinished plot strands of Hellboy II: The Golden Army were resolved.

★☆

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