“HellBoy” Is A Popcorn Filled Guilty Pleasure, That Proves It’s A Chaotically Fun Flick Made For The Fans Not The Critics
After taking a four year break from donning the 4-hour makeup process for “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” in 2008. In mid 2012, Ron Perlman once again agreed to endure the makeup routine required to transform him into “Hellboy”. Except this was not for a sequel or a comic con appearance, but to fulfill the Make-A-Wish request of a six-year-old boy named Zachary who had leukemia. Creature effects house Spectral Motion, who had worked on the two previous “Hellboy” films, applied Perlman’s “Hellboy” makeup (and later, also made up Zachary as “Hellboy” as well), so that Zachary could spend the day hanging out with his favorite superhero.
Director of “Hellboy” 1 & 2, Guillermo Del Toro was so touched by this event that it inspired him to stir up buzz for production on “Hellboy 3”. However, creative differences led to Del Toro and Ron Perlman to both leave, causing a long hiatus until it was moved from Universal Pictures and taken over by Lionsgate who decided to reboot the character altogether, following the rise of R-rated superhero movies. The reboot’s development quickly started soon after.
“Hellboy” 2019 is a new take on creator Mike Mignola’s popular superhero comic book series about a demonic antihero (which celebrated it’s 25th anniversary last month). Unlike the earlier, PG-13 adaptations from Guillermo Del Toro, that came out in 2004 and 2008, this version has been rated R. It’s extremely violent, with buckets of computer generated blood and gore. Characters are killed, and there are torn-up body parts, severed heads, limbs, gouged tongues and eyeballs. Creator Mike Mignola has stated that this depiction is the closest and most comic accurate. Whether it was Mignola saying that or is a gimmick planned by the studio is up for debate. Although this “Hellboy” looks more like the Mike Mignola comic book.
Regardless if Mignola did or didn’t make that statement, or if we wanted a reboot or not. Like it or not “Hellboy” is back, and while he isn’t the same or as great as he was when Guillermo Del Toro directed them. The Del Toro-ness of it all has been stripped away, including Ron Perlman who has been replaced by David Harbour (Sheriff Hopper from “Stranger Things”) and directed by British filmmaker Neil Marshall (“The Descent,” “Game of Thrones”).
Marshall gives the new “Hellboy”, a punk rock and heavy metal music video vibe instead of the elegant fantasy take of Del Toro. Marshall’s Film is both totally nuts and slipshod (disorganized and haphazard). The effects are fun and inventive and Marshall’s punk rock sensibility works well with all of the demonic shenanigans going on.
Marshall’s “Hellboy” was doomed from the start as it was born of clashes between director Neil Marshall and two of the film’s, you ready for this?…16 total producers. It went as far as when Marshall handed in his cut of the film, from there the 16 producers had taken over. According to the producers, Marshall had never been promised final cut of the film.
The problems haven’t ended there as of right now “Hellboy” is sitting at 15% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, as the critics are hacking this movie apart. However there is good news for “Hellboy” as the public audience score is sitting at 66% fresh. “Hellboy” is finding itself to be in the “Venom” syndrome where critics hated the film but audiences loved it and caused “Venom” to walk away with a box office gross of $215 million. While we have to wait and see “Hellboy’s” cash take-in. “Hellboy” is the kind of movie that is made for the audience and fans of the character. Marshall went in knowing full well that its target audience isn’t the mainstream blockbuster demographic that demands structure. It’s specifically designed to attract a cult audience who will love it and turn it into a long-lasting guilty pleasure of a film.
The action starts with a flashback to 517 A.D. with scenes in which a witch named Nimue, aka the Blood Queen (“The Fifth Element” star Milla Jovovich), spreads a plague and gets executed by none other than King Arthur, who cuts her into bloody pieces with his mighty sword Excalibur and has the pieces, buried all over England. Soon, “Hellboy” is back in England on the trail of Nimue’s pieces, which are being put back together with the help of Gruagach (Stephen Graham), a giant with the head of a hog (who looks like a rejected VFX test of Bebop from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”). “Hellboy” still has a bantering father & son relationship with “dad” (played by Ian McShane, in a part that was originally played by the late, great John Hurt). “Hellboy’s” demon and ghost-busting sidekicks are clairvoyant Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane, “American Honey”) and BPRD agent Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim, “Hawaii Five-0”).
“Hellboy” isn’t entirely an origin story, but screenwriter Andrew Cosby manages to blow right through time to witness “Hellboy’s” birth, and detail Nimue’s early interests in destroying mankind. The movie isn’t great with introductions, but the basics of “Hellboy” are established. Cosby also has trouble with writing exposition, as he wants to stick it everywhere. Often having characters repeat information just to make sure the audience is clear on certain character missions, it just ends up to be choppy and unorganized.
Other characters crowd the story, including “Hellboy’s” dealings with the witch Baba Yaga. Some of the film’s best scenes feature the Slavic witch, who lives in a house with giant legs and whose diabolical contortions are courtesy of the remarkably bendy sensation Troy James. There are additional references and characters from Mignola’s work that are stuffed in an effort to make sure fans walk away pleased. Marshall doesn’t know how to carry the load, instead turning to sheer noise and chaos to make an impression, ordering up extreme violence to butch up his take on “Hellboy”.
There’s an awful lot going on but much of it works pretty well. “Hellboy” is a blood-spattered, bone-cracking, resoundingly tedious mess because of the studio hacking away at it in the editing room. It’s a clunky mixture of wisecracking camp, gothic horror and a seemingly endless parade of various humans and demons and spirits and whatever’s dying in the most grotesque manner imaginable. It draws a big comparison to director Sam Raimi’s “Army Of Darkness”.
Just because the violence is more graphic doesn’t mean a movie will be more intense. Just because the language includes f-bombs doesn’t mean a movie will be more “grown-up” than its PG-13 predecessor. And just because the makeup department and the CGI technicians can fill the screen will all sorts of hideous creatures (the gigantic Clive Barker-inspired leviathans are truly glorious), doesn’t mean you should over-indulge in the ugly or the visuals, at the expense of not giving us a cleanly structured story. Where instead giving us just one preposterous set piece after another as it races through the plot.
There are numerous jokes that feels as if they were added to the movie at the last minute. Bad jokes too. Harbour looks the part and I enjoyed him as “Hellboy”, but their is something about Ron Perlman who made the character feel special. His voice, his physical comedy and his one-liners are missing from Harbour’s version. “The Fifth Element” herself Milla Jovovich looks amazing, but is a disappointing villain, showing little authority as “The Blood Queen”. There’s plenty of hell raising which Marshall lets it all spiral out of control, layering chaos over chaos, which will render the feature numbing for some.
This movie is void of the magic that made the previous two work so well. Instead taking on a punk rock and heavy metal vibe. Marshall has basically been tasked with taking the series into R-rated extremes of violence to properly match “Hellboy” to his ink and paint origins. Marshall’s film is a wellspring of fun and creativity, a major superhero movie made for hardcore R-rated horror fans, overflowing with action and eye popping visuals. It’s ambitious and low-key at the same time. If your a fan of “Hellboy’s” comic history, then you’ll eat this up with a spoon and have a blast. Everyone else just sit back, stuff your face with popcorn and have one hell of a time, because you won’t find much else.
GRADE: ★★1/2☆☆☆ (2 & 1/2 out of 5)