The new Hellboy has awfully big shoes to fill. Not only does the movie reboot and serve as a prequel to the ambitious films by Guillermo del Toro, it also recast the big red guy himself. Sadly, it’s a slog and a mess.
Starting just after a long ago battle between King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), we see the powerful witch drained of blood and sectioned into nine separate mini coffins. Much like Thanos and Voldemort, these pieces need to be reassembled if Nimue is ever to gain back her power. This sets the stage for the overarching plot, though the film is only loosely draped around this frame.
David Harbour stars as Hellboy this time. His version of the big guy is just as red and surly as the one in the comics, but he somehow lacks that baseline of warmth and humor. His tender side isn’t given much attention, and he’s only allowed to act like a stubborn teenager, even when reunited with the young woman he rescued when she was a baby (Sasha Lane).
This stifled Hellboy isn’t even the worst part of the movie. The bloated plot is. Or it could be the distractingly bad CGI. Or maybe the fact that the film was edited in such a choppy manner that the entire thing feels like you just missed the previous scene and are not quite sure precisely what’s happening on screen or why the characters are where they are. No, actually, I think the worst part of Hellboy is the non-stop exposition.
Because it jumps from one unrelated scene to the next, trying to cram far too much backstory and plot into a film that should just let the action and characters carry it, the dialogue explaining what’s happening from one moment to the next is never-ending. When Hellboy encounters Baba Yaga (Troy James and Emma Tate, thanks to CGI) in her own realm, the ferocious Russian fairy tale creature just won’t shut up. She spends nearly the entire encounter droning on about all the details of her motivation and history with Hellboy. When we meet the super secret underground society that bands together to fight giants and once fought Nazis, every moment of that group’s history is told to us in useless detail. Heck, even as the final showdown between Hellboy and Nimue is taking place, the witch talks the entire fight.
The one thing that can be appreciated for a certain sect of the audience (myself included) is the bloodiness within the film. Too often, flesh wounds and bullet holes are bloodless and shown as having little consequence. Here, the blood flows freely and gleefully. When a gruesome injury happens, it’s not off-screen or just hinted at; it’s often shown right in the center of the frame, with blood splashing back towards the audience. This hyper-violent streak feels authentic to the spirit of the comics and is a tonal match for the many monstrous fight sequences in the film. That’s not to say that all these effects look great. In fact, much of the VFX work is laughably terrible, but I admire the unflinching camera, at least.
Hellboy sure does try hard to explain itself and wow us with violence, but never hits its stride.