Hellboy begins with a fairly simple and intriguing premise (King Arthur kills Nimue the Blood Queen, who swears revenge) and manages to completely squander it over the course of a bloated two hour runtime. How did they manage to mess this up when European mythology is so rich, storied, and multifaceted? Your guess is as good as mine.
Perhaps the proof is in the
R-rated pudding. Now before I talk about how Hellboy wastes its R-rating, let
me just make it clear that there is absolutely room for R-rated comic book
adaptations. We don’t need to look further than Deadpool and its sequel (which
is still fresh), as well as other films like Logan to really see what an
R-rating can do (don’t forget that Blade helped kick this trend off, too). But
given that we’ve already had two successful PG-13 Hellboys, the prospect gets
even more dubious the more you really think about it.
Nearly all of the gore in Hellboy 2019 is backloaded into the finale, and the clever use of profanity is few and far-between (or simply non-existent). Hellboy’s producers didn’t stop to think about whether or not this film needed to be R-rated, because nearly every use of it is pointless or injected as if to say “look, we have an R-rating.” With a few clever edits, Hellboy may as well have been PG-13.
But all of that is a minor complaint compared to Hellboy’s biggest sin: it simply does not justify its existence within the confines of one film. The sequel disease is rampant at the moment despite franchises being canceled left or right, and Hellboy was bitten by it: badly. Forget the fact that we’ve already had two well-known Guillermo del Toro-helmed movies out in the wild that already introduced us to the universe, Hellboy 2019 has more needless exposition than nearly any comic book adaptation to date. There’s a roughly 10-minute scene that merely exists for sequel table-setting. When a new character is introduced, we get a micro prequel film explaining their character. Whenever a new location is revealed, it’s because of a five to ten minute exposition scene. Before we’re given the chance to marvel at a set design or let a scene marinate, someone utters the words “allow me to introduce,” to shove even more exposition into a full closet. Remember when Black Panther kind of just sprang into action in Civil War and kicked ass? Hellboy could have done more of that.
David Harbour, who attempts the Herculean task of stepping into Ron Perlman’s big shoes, is fine as the titular demonic hero. He adds a new disheveled dimension to the character and does his best to work with what he was given. But nearly no one else, even Ian McShane’s Trevor Bruttenholm I’m sad to say, measures up. Hellboy’s motley crew is a bore and there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the secondary antagonist, Nimue’s goon. Daniel Dae Kim’s Daimio is the only main cast member besides Hellboy that has a shred of potential, but he doesn’t even use his powers until the last few moments of the film. The other sidekick is a literal exposition machine, highlighting another fundamental screw up in the planning stages before filming even began.
Hellboy 2019 is also a fairly dark film. No really, it’s not very well lit, with sloppy action scenes that somehow even look sluggish and hastily edited in broad daylight. There’s one substantially cool fight and it’s dim and blurry as hell! Part of that blur is due to the overabundance of CGI mixed with an editing job that’s all over the place, trying to rush us through this two-hour saga that could have been told in a fraction of the game. There’s one neat set (Baba Yaga’s house) and one standout character (Thomas Hayden Church’s sadly fleeting Lobster Johnson). That’s really it. Hellboy is a tough sell. General audiences will look at the character (or merely hear the name) and scoff. I experienced it decades ago even in my younger years and countless times in the wake of Hellboy’s now infamous initial trailer. The audience at my theatre didn’t even stay for the second post-credits scene: the thought occurred to me that they didn’t know it existed, but perhaps they just didn’t care.
In a world where Guillermo is a respected award-winning director and Ron Perlman is willing (and still able) to complete a Hellboy trilogy, I just have one question: “why?”