The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


A Hell of a Bad Movie

David Harbour
David Harbour
 120 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Starring: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich    

The first thing I did upon arriving home after seeing Hellboy, the reboot of the short-lived franchise based on the cult Dark Horse Comics character of the same name, was to look up the IMDB bio page of screenwriter Andrew Cosby. I was shocked to discover that Cosby is an adult who has been involved in the film industry for the better part of two decades. The reason for my surprise was that I was sure that the debacle I had just witnessed could only have been created by a middle-school fanboy who was fascinated in equal measure by juvenile playground humor and dismembered body parts.


While Hellboy, the character, and Dark Horse Comics are not held in the same esteem as are the heroes of Marvel and DC Comics, the half-man/half-demon who, in many of his adventures, fights against the literal forces of evil does have his followers. In the early days of this century, writer/director Guillermo del Toro and actor Ron Perlman combined to bring two Hellboy movies to the big screen to middling box office success. Even without the participation of either of them, a new version of the character seemed like a reasonable venture for Lionsgate. But what actually emerged seems like something that somehow escaped from the bowels of cinematic Hell.


The comic book version of Hellboy has been around since 1994, and, in typical comic book fashion, has produced a tremendous number of characters and storylines over the years. The new movie is pointedly not an origin story (although the character’s origin is shown briefly in a flashback), but, instead, it tries to cram in as many of those characters and storylines as possible in a two-hour running time, using still more flashbacks. The result is a confusing, incoherent mess of a story.


Before the audience actually gets to meet Hellboy (David Harbour), they are subjected to a prologue involving King Arthur (yes, that Arthur) and his arch-nemesis Queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich). Arthur defeats Nimue and uses Excalibur to hack her into a dozen or so pieces and scatter them around England. Fast forward to the present day, and the ancient crone Baba Yaga (Emma Tate) recruits a giant warthog demon (Stephen Graham) to recover the various parts of Nimue so Baba Yaga can bring the evil queen back to life to take on Hellboy.


This plot synopsis may sound dumb, but, in actuality, the actual story is even stupider and sillier. Before Hellboy, who works as an anti-demon-and-evil-witch buster for a supersecret paranormal research agency, can take on Nimue, he tries to help out members of an ancient giant-hunting society destroy a giant that is rampaging England. Unfortunately, that quest is merely a ruse to allow them to try to kill Hellboy. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Hellboy survives their trap, after which, he teams up with a psychic who can talk to the dead (Sasha Lane) and a man who can turn into a jaguar (Daniel Dae Kim) to finally go after the by-now reassembled Nimue.


The Hellboy comics have always been rather light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, as the plot description would indicate, and this movie would seem to have plenty of room for laughs to go along with some supernatural, CGI action sequences. However, the script completely fails to capture any of the comic potential in the setup. The movie does have plenty of attempts at humor, though, coming mainly in the form of a nearly non-stop barrage of snarky putdowns and one-liners delivered by David Harbour. Sadly, dreadfully few of these putdowns are funny, and most are downright dreadful. For example, when another character takes exception to working with a “monster,” Hellboy replies, “Who are you calling a monster, pal? Have you looked in the mirror recently?” Actually, that’s one of the funnier jokes (and one of the few that doesn’t throw in a few four-letter words for good measure as well).


In addition to dumbing down the attempts at humor, the new Hellboy ramps up the violence tremendously. Bodies are hacked and ripped apart in scene after scene, and, unlike the graphic violence in Deadpool, there’s nothing at all funny about either what’s shown or the reactions of the various characters to it. Now, I’m willing to assume that if our world did ever come under attack by the types of demons depicted in this movie, then lots of people would meet similarly horrifying fates, but I don’t need to see it, not once, and certainly not the numbing number of times such scenes are depicted in Hellboy. These scenes seem to be nothing more than exercises by director Neil Marshall in how much gore he can cram into two hours of running time.


The gore does camouflage to a certain extent the ridiculously convoluted (and downright ridiculous) plot of Hellboy. After all, it’s hard to concentrate on figuring out just who the various characters and demons are in the movie when some of them are literally obliterated every few minutes. Tone down the violence and Hellboy would still be a mess of a film, but the actual film is an entirely disgusting mess.


The one person who can come out of this entire fiasco smiling is Ron Perlman because this film illustrates just what he brought to the earlier movies. Some actors have a way with cheesy material while others, like David Harbour, struggle. Harbour does his best to affect a cool, hardass, wise-cracking demeanor, but he isn’t given the slightest help from the script. Perlman, on the other hand, has that ability to project the right image, regardless of the lines he’s been given. The only actor in the current film who has the right demeanor is Ian McShane, who plays Hellboy’s adoptive father and mentor (John Hurt, another actor who had that same quality, played the role in the earlier movies). McShane manages the right intonation and attitude in his scenes, giving the material a slight degree of credibility that it doesn’t deserve. The only times that Hellboy is even marginally watchable are during McShane’s relatively few scenes.


Since I’m not that familiar with the Hellboy comics, I don’t know to what extent the movie reflects the sensibilities in those comics. Judging by the film’s box office so far, I would gather that the reason the books have achieved cult popularity is not because of a level of violence even remotely comparable to what is in this movie. I’m guessing that there are a few horror film directors who would love to make movies like Hellboy but are constrained by a lack of budget. The CGI effects in Hellboy certainly aren’t lavish by today’s Hollywood standards, but director Neil Marshall evidently had enough money at his disposal to indulge his whims. However, moviegoing audiences with any taste should not indulge Marshall’s indulgences but should, instead, consign Hellboy to the cinematic inferno that it deserves.

In this clip, Milla Jovovich makes David Harbour an offer.

Read other reviews of Hellboy: 

Hellboy (2019) on IMDb