Any horror fan has seen at least one or two films where a possessed human fights against monsters to keep them under control and contained within them (it’s that whole good vs. evil within us metaphor for beginners); unfortunately it’s also a perfect analog to the new reboot of ‘Hellboy‘. Somewhere inside is a really well-made, well-scripted and developed adaptation of Mike Mignola’s comics. However it’s being beaten back down by being trapped within one of the most shockingly ill-executed films since Robin Hood (the Taron Egerton one).
I was among those legions of fans disappointed when director Guillermo del Toro and lead Ron Perlman were unceremoniously kicked to the curb in favor of a new team; with a cast led by Stranger Things‘ David Harbour, Eureka scribe Andrew Cosby, and director Neil Marshall. As time went by, it was revealed that they were drawing more closely to the original comics material, leaning more into the gore and violence that was a part of the source’s trademark. Opinions pivoted with the hope that hey, this might be solid and worth a real try.
Unfortunately while there are some utterly amazing images, fight scenes, and gore, that’s nearly where the positives end.
American Gods and Deadwood alum Ian McShane plays Hellboy’s adoptive father, Professor Broom. The opening voiceover narrating the ancient events of the war between King Arthur and The Blood Queen, recited by McShane, was poorly executed. We know he can talk amazingly, but here it’s muddled- tossed together and poorly rendered. Various elements of the film feel like they wouldn’t have been out of place in a SYFY Sharknado film. How in the world Marshall was unable to bring a strong performance out of Milla Jovovich as the Blood Queen is utterly bewildering. Even at the WORST of times in the Resident Evil films she emoted far better than this. Marshall has been doing mostly television for most of the past decade, but before that had decent receptions for a few horror-bent films, most notably The Descent. So where things went off of what we might have hoped to get from him remains a mystery.
The general story is that after an ancient war between humans (led by Arthur) and monsters (led by the Blood Queen), the immortal Queen was dismembered and taken to various corners of the land and hidden. Cut to modern day where Gruagach, seeking to get vengeance on Hellboy, is out to reunite the Queen’s parts and be granted the ability to take his revenge. The Queen wants to be whole again, and not be locked for 1,500 years in small boxes and to serve up her own payback against the humans. Hellboy just wants to punch folks and put bad guys back into their place. It’s not a particularly deep plot, and perhaps they were after sticking to the shallows with performances.
There are various set pieces which stand in as various nods to the source material, but they’re bolted together and feel more like a Frankenstein piece, rather than something that was really fleshed out. While some of the effects are poor, others are indeed top notch; notably if someone needs to have their eye shot out, disemboweled, or other epic levels of damage. But it’s newcomer Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan who brings a stand out performance. If anyone seems to be trying to put some effort behind things, it’s Lane. Her fairy-exposed self with powers to communicate with the dead makes for some of the more captivating scenes.
In the end the film has some fun moments, but they’re threaded together by so many ineffective and nearly cringe-worthy character interaction moments that it keeps it down from being something to remember. The pieces were definitely here, but it needed to be in the hands of someone more experienced in this kind of genre. It’s surprising since Marshall has done a number of television episodes which should have prepped him to the task, but it seems to have faltered.
Imagine taking the same story, cast, with true studio backing and have del Toro direct and it might have been something to really remember.
Hellboy opens on April 12th in theaters everywhere.
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