I feel like I am likely the target audience for this film.
Even though I am a (self-described) pop-culture aficionado, and I love to take in as many films, TV series, books, comics, and games as I can, there’s just not enough time to experience everything that’s out there – it’s just not possible. Somehow over the last 15 years, I’ve managed to accidentally avoid seeing either of the two Guillermo del Toro-led ‘Hellboy’ films: the original cinematic work first released in 2004 and the sequel, ‘Hellboy: The Golden Army’ that came out in 2008. Further, while I’m aware that the movies are based on the Dark Horse comic book series of the same name that first started to see print in the mid-1990s, I have never read a single issue of the Mike Mignola-helmed works.
Does it seem strange that a reboot of the cinematic series has come now, a mere eleven years after the last installment? It’s a little Spider-Man-3-into-The-Amazing-Spider-Man-esque, this is true; however, we are in the current prime time of what I call the “snarky superhero,” with darkly-comedic or self-referential comic-book adaptations such as ‘Deadpool,’ ‘Aquaman,’ and ‘The LEGO Batman Movie,’ among others, reigning supreme. So it seems like the time is right and the audience should be primed for a ‘Hellboy’ film right now then, yeah?
Well, we probably would be – if the first two quirky films weren’t so “ahead of their time” in terms of their release relative to the cinematic superhero boom. As it stands, trotting Hellboy back out to the silver screen now – especially as a reboot of a two-film series that probably didn’t need a reboot – feels like an unnecessary move. A fairly entertaining move, to be sure, but rather unnecessary. Let’s leave the latter part of that sentence behind for a bit and dive into the former part, shall we?
David Harbour (he of ‘Stranger Things’ fame, among other films & TV stuff from which you might recognize him) takes over the titular role of the large red demon with a soft spot for humans – Ron Perlman had played the role in the previous films, but my guess is that at 68 years old, he wasn’t looking to get back in the action-hero and head-to-toe-prosthetic saddle any time soon. This story, from all accounts, fairly faithfully adapts several key plot points from the Mignola comic series, whereas the del Toro two-pack of movies took many liberties and essentially let the iconic genre director craft his own tale using the existing Hellboy universe of characters, locations, etc.
As for the plot of this film itself? Nothing that needs too deep of a dive here: you fairly standard end-of-the-world-is-nigh type of stuff, starting with a pre-opening-credits scene that establishes the Big Bad Threat of dark witch Nimue The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich, somehow not having aged a day since her ‘Resident Evil’ trysts) – a threat that has existed since the time of King Arthur and Merlin the Wizard, allowing the film’s story to open the door wide to the realm of fantasy and fairy tale in addition to demons and darker Lovecraftian things from down below.
Through it all is “Big Red” with his loosely-assembled team of compatriots at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, or BPRD: his adoptive human father Professor Broom (Ian McShane), ghost whisperer Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), and British M11 operative Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae-Kim), who houses a supernatural secret of his own. A quirky quartet? Yes. Fairly run-of-the-mill in the context of existing pretty much solely to provide context and convenient information relevant to the plot when necessary? Big yes.
The movie itself, both in pacing and presentation, feels like several issues of a comic book presented all at once, but issues that don’t really have an over-arching narrative thread to them. Things are highly disjointed from scene to scene; the action is there in spades, and it’s all fun to watch and take in visually, but the action really meanders from one point to the next. Even with the main threat of The Blood Queen and her quest to take over the world, each progressive scene feels like a different level of the old Nintendo game ‘Super Mario Brothers’ – sometimes you’re underwater, sometimes you’re in the clouds, sometimes you’re falling down pipes and collecting coins, but the quest to find the end goal always trudges inexorably onward, and your princess is always in another castle.
‘Hellboy’ has been getting a lot of really negative reviews so far… are they all warranted? I suppose that depends on your level of background knowledge and/or preference for this character and the universe he inhabits via the two previous films. I found it to be an entertaining film, which I give it points for; however, important pieces like plot and character development (along with effects, including the physical presentation of Harbour’s Hellboy himself, which were all really really great in some scenes and just atrocious in others) were severely lacking, so I take points away there. For me, then, as someone who experienced this film with a fairly blank slate coming in, it was overall an average experience: lots of vapid entertainment, but no real “staying power” in my mind beyond the viewing itself. Your mileage, of course, may vary.