Hellboy can now join esteemed company like Spider-Man and Batman in being one of the rare superheroes to headline both a great movie and a truly awful movie. While Hellboy II: The Golden Army rose to become one of the best superhero features back in 2008, the new 2019 Hellboy movie is rancid trash. It’s a stunningly inept exercise that dumbfounds me in how they messed up a can’t miss premise like this. A big red guy fighting fantasy monsters should be a can’t-miss proposition for making an entertaining motion picture but much like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Batman v. Superman managed to utilize their own previously fun characters for garbage filmmaking, Hellboy finds so many ways to screw up its own basic premise and squander a top-notch cast in the process.
In this new reboot of the Dark Horse comics superhero, Hellboy (David Harbour) works for the B.R.P.D., an organization dedicated to fighting monsters and other dark mystical forces. The recently resurrected blood queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich) certainly qualifies as an entity Hellboy should be fighting and he, alongside Alica (Sasha Lane) and Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), team up to take on Nimue and stop her from becoming powerful enough to unleash a cataclysmic plague on the human race. This is a very simple premise that the movie keeps twisting itself into knots to make gratingly immensely convoluted.
The story for Hellboy is a total disaster, a complete storytelling catastrophe that reeks of laziness and excessive rewriters rather than admirable ambitions gone awry ala Southland Tales. Among its many faults is that, like Batman v. Superman from three years ago, Hellboy has a script that keeps abruptly tossing up characters and details from the source material without any proper introduction or reasoning for why they’re in the story. For instance, our entire plot comes to a screeching halt so a superfluous flashback can contain an extraneous appearance by a fan-favorite character from the Hellboy comics. This character isn’t even put to fun use, it just feels like an attempt to get fans of the source material happy enough to see something they recognize that they won’t notice how bad the movie they’re watching is.
The most hollow kind of fan service imaginable runs rampant throughout Hellboy’s screenplay, as does way too many sequences of characters just constantly jabbering away at plot details that are already fairly obvious, namely the simplistic backstory for Nimue. In addition to speaking in dreary expository dialogue, characters also try to speak in witty action one-liners that keep falling flat while everybody in this universe sprinkles in so much extraneous “edgy” profanity into their vernacular that even Quentin Tarantino would think they’re overdoing the raunchy verbiage. Worst of all in the dialogue department, though, is the various “humorous” one-liners David Harbour delivers off-screen as Hellboy.
Yes, off-screen. Throughout the movie, the camera will cut to some object, a car or a sword, for instance, and an off-screen Hellboy will provide commentary on it in the form of a cheesy one-liner from a failed 1990’s sitcom. “Is that my Uber??” and “[The sword] looked a lot bigger in the cartoon” are just a few choice comedic gems Harbour’s character drops off-screen in bits of failed comedy that were clearly added in post-production. Instead of generating laughs, all these recurring ADR’s comedic lines from Hellboy generated in me was memories of that Patton Oswalt stand-up bit where he was asked to aid a script for an animated movie by way of writing humorous lines for characters to say off-screen.
Hellboy finds plenty of time to waste David Harbour’s talents on such pitiful attempts at comedy but it can’t seem to find time for much in the way of actual fantasy violence. When we do get a rare action sequence, it’s usually edited terribly, particularly a fight between Hellboy and a trio of giants which left me visually puzzled as to what the hell was even going on. These spectacle-driven sequences make use of gratuitous bloody violence that left me more bored than shocked while there’s also an abundance of truly abysmal computer-generated visual effects in the action scenes and throughout the entire film. Hey Hellboy, The Mummy Returns called, it wants its CG visual effects back.
By the end of Hellboy, we’ve come to a dramatically inert climax where Hellboy and Nimue face off while giant demons that have never been introduced before just rain down bloody carnage on London citizens and landmarks. Like in The Mummy, all of this VFX-heavy London mayhem is completely disconnected from what’s happening with the lead characters, it’s just empty noise with no purpose or fun to speak of, which also functions as an apt descriptor for Hellboy as a whole. Why are so many good actors (poor Sasha Lane deserved a far better initial foray into high-profile cinema than this), not to mention a director, Neil Marshall, who’s previously made acclaimed features and episodes of Game of Thrones, having all their talents wasted on such an abysmal movie that makes Venom look like Pather Panchali? Heaven only knows the answer to that question, though I at least know that Hellboy is miserably bad.