When I finally went to college, I suddenly realized that I could pretty much do whatever I want since my parents weren’t around to tell me otherwise. This mostly translated into eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and as much as I wanted. Two semesters and four pants sizes later, I learned a valuable lesson: Just because I could doesn’t always mean that I should. Much like the end of my freshman year, the team behind Hellboy learned this lesson much too late.
Before I started writing this review, I tried to convince myself not to spend the whole time talking about how far superior Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy run was, but the more I think about it, the less I can keep that promise. The two previous Hellboy films were both PG-13, but even then they didn’t shy away from violence. You really can’t have Hellboy, AKA World Destroyer AKA Beast of the Apocalypse AKA the Right Hand of Doom, without there being some sort of fighting or destruction involved. Del Toro has never shied away from that, but in his films, he focuses on crafting a world full of whimsy and mayhem, and then has the brutality become a part of it. Where this new Hellboy goes wrong is that instead of having the violence and carnage being the result of the plot or story, the film treats it like it’s a character all its own.
Director Neil Marshall, who has brought us forgettable, over-stylized films like Doomsday and Centurion, give the Hellboy universe the same treatment. With it’s new, hard R rating, Marshall goes above and beyond to push the limits, but not in any constructive way. He mainly focuses on copious amounts of blood and more gore than you get from even the messiest slasher film. Where del Toro put an emphasis on the magical nature of the unseen world, Marshall tries to distinguish his film by focusing on the hellish aspect creating scenes of blood and dismemberment that would make even Spawn blush. This darker take would be a problem at all were it not for the seeming pointlessness of it all. For a few scenes, this corporal brutality works perfectly, but for most of them, it is literally overkill.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be such an eyesore if visuals didn’t look like something out of an early 2000’s film. The first Hellboy came out in 2004, and even it had visual effects that still hold up today. Everything from the CGI characters to the horrible animated blood and even the obvious green screen landscapes makes you appreciate the visual opulence of every single Fantastic Four film. Yes, even the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four film was more appealing than this film. If it weren’t for the previous Hellboy films, we wouldn’t have a standard set for every subsequent film. Guillermo del Toro’s use of practical effects, magnificent creature design and use of make-up and prosthetics over CGI all make for an engaging cinematic experience whose attention to detail shows you just how much the filmmakers care about their film.
Really the only good character design in this new Hellboy is Hellboy himself, and much of that is because actor David Harbour does a good job in bringing him to life. His one-liners and nonchalant attitude embody the character well-enough to almost make up for the nonsense story that ultimately feels like it is filler meant to take you from one battle to the next. The performances are the most enjoyable part of the entire film, but aside from Harbour, the only other two people who breathe life into this film are Ian McShane and Sasha Lane, who play Professor Broom and Alice Monaghan, respectively. Even our main villain (aside from the filmmakers), Milla Jovovich who plays the Blood Queen, feels like she is just rehashing a mix of the other villains she has played in the past.
As a reboot for the Hellboy franchise, this film crashes and burns. With enough wanton gore and guts to drown a small island, it ends up getting lost in a sea of red. Great characters could have been enough to save the ill-conceived, lazy story, but even those were mostly hard to come by. Somewhere, Guillermo del Toro just finished watching this film and thought to himself, “They didn’t let me finish my trilogy for THIS?! To hell with them.” To hell with them, indeed.