Even with the abundance of superhero films that exist nowadays and high-profile directors attached to them, few franchises ever feel like the work of an auteur. Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and the wildly underrated sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army were clearly the vision of the Oscar-winning director, a world crafted with care that captured the spirit of the character. Fifteen years after del Toro brought Hellboy to the big screen, Hellboy has been rebooted by The Descent’s Neil Marshall, a filmmaker whose main style seems to be apocalyptic and gloomy. Marshall’s Hellboy trades the wit and inventiveness of del Toro’s Hellboy for insane violence, gross-out humor, awful jokes, and terrible CGI. It is one of the worst films of 2019.
This time around, Stranger Things’ David Harbour plays the half-demon Hellboy, who works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Hellboy begins with a massive piece of exposition, explaining that centuries ago, Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) was a powerful witch who threatened to destroy the entire world with a plague, until King Arthur killed her with Excalibur, cut her into little pieces and scattered her around England. Now, Nimue has been reassembled and threatens to wreck havoc on the world again.
To help Hellboy take down this monster, he is aided by Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), and Alice (Sasha Lane), who can speak to spirits, and also puke up the spirits of the recently deceased in what can only be described as looking like ghostly lower intestines. While seeking out Nimue, Hellboy also learns about the questionable actions of his adopted father, Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), and learns that his father’s choices might lead Hellboy to being the foretold harbinger of the apocalypse.
Right away, Hellboy presents itself as the hard-R version of this character, and it automatically feels like it’s trying too hard. The violence is excessive – even for this story where excessive violence should feel commonplace – and the attempts to be extreme are laughable. McShane’s opening narration drops expletives for no real purpose, and within the opening minutes, characters are literally torn apart. Restraint is not part of Hellboy’s wheelhouse.
At the very least, amongst all the violence and over-the-top attempts at attitude, Hellboy should inherently have an intriguing world of creatures and lore. But Hellboy’s mythology is a confusing mixture of Biblical apocalypse, Nazi experiments, and Knights of the Round Table that never coalesce into much more than “Hellboy is a good guy with the potential to be very bad.” Del Toro’s interest in creatures and world-building made at least that aspect of the original films interesting to experience, regardless of interest in the story overall. Here, Hellboy is an atrocious combination of hideous special effects and amateurish makeup. The film occasionally throws in magical creatures, but their design is drab and nondescript, as if they could be from literally any other film.
The problems of Hellboy mostly come down to Marshall and writer Andrew Cosby. Marshall doesn’t have the visual flair to do this story any justice, and Hellboy’s fight scenes are full of nonsensical cuts and take place in an uncanny valley of special effects and real actors that don’t look like they exist in the same location. Cosby’s screenplay comes off as scattered, and relies too much on clumsy flashbacks and awkward side stories. This combination of creatives leaves Hellboy’s return a disparate, dull mess.
Hellboy is a boring, spiritless experience that is a massive step down from the films that came before it. It is completely uninspired, despite the vibrant worlds and potential that should come naturally to this series. At one point, Hellboy mentions that he’s been to Hell and Purgatory, and after watching Hellboy, you’ll also feel like you’ve been to Hell and back.