Hellboy(2019) is a case of wasted potential mixed with totally misguided execution, resulting in a final product that feels utterly pointless.
The film’s premise is the definition of generic: an ancient evil sorceress rises back to power, threatening to cause humanity’s annihilation. A familiar premise can be forgiven if executed well, but when the film is a failure in virtually every aspect, the recycled plotline sticks out like Baba Yaga’s sore thumb (I made a reference to the movie, get it?).
Immediately we’re met with an absurd amount of exposition that is not only done through lazy voice-over, but also goes to great lengths to spell out the most minute details to the audience – details that could very easily be inferred. Yet the issues with the script don’t end there. The narrative is extremely messy and choppy, with little to no flow between scenes. Jumping from plot point to plot point, it’s very scattershot and chock-full of inexplicable conveniences and contrivances. Conflicts are brought up and immediately resolved, making them, and their dedicated screen time, feel wasted and pointless. Furthermore, there’s a fundamental lack of clarity about the passage of time, leaving a gaping void where the concept of ‘pacing’ should be.
All that being said, the first half of the film is still mildly entertaining – about as entertaining as mindless, trashy schlock with no substance can be. It’s the film’s second half that absolutely derails the entire picture. The plot’s jumpiness goes into overdrive and somehow feels even more disjointed than before, culminating in a truly awful climax (this is where my claim of ‘misguided execution’ kicks in). The film is absurdly and unnecessarily hyper-violent and gory throughout, with blood pouring by the gallons. However, the degree to which this is taken in the film’s climax feels utterly exploitative, tasteless and almost offensive. Don’t get me wrong, hyper-violence in film can be done right – the John Wick and The Raid films are perfect examples of this. But having innocent civilians get horrifically torn to shreds and tortured for the seemingly twelfth time in the span of two minutes is a conscious creative decision that is questionable at best and repulsive at worst.
There is some admittedly interesting creature design and practical make-up work in the finale, and indeed throughout the whole film. However, nothing comes close to Guillermo del Toro’s original films. The film’s vulgarity, while often feeling excessive for the sake of excess, can be entertaining, and there is a handful of hilariously cheesy moments. As for the acting, David Harbour as the snarky Hellboy is the film’s main saving grace, while Milla Jovovich does about as well as she can with the material she’s given, although Ian McShane just feels like a less charismatic version of his character from the John Wick films. Lastly, standing out amongst largely uninspired and forgettable moments, a measly two action sequences are well-directed and entertaining, though neither has any narrative significance.
An R-rated, hyper-violent reimagining of Hellboy could have been uniquely brilliant, standing out from the original films as an ‘adult’ and ‘edgy’ take on the character. Instead, we’re left with a disappointing film that lacks cohesion, has a misguided approach to its execution and an off-putting gore fetish. Don’t bother.
Image: gracewells533 via Flickr