I have a lot of affection for the Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy films. They came around right at the point where I was really getting into films and were the films that made me fully aware of John Hurt, who is my favourite actor. So there was always a part of me that was a bit resentful of the idea of this version of Hellboy since we’re getting this over Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy 3. However, that didn’t stop me hoping that this film would be good, especially with Neil Marshall directing who has shown himself to be a solid director for supernatural/fantasy action with his work on Game of Thrones and Constantine (along with other work on Hannibal and Westworld). However, this version of Hellboy is a complete mess.
The film focuses on the rise of Nimue, a 5th Century witch sealed away by King Arthur and Merlin who is being brought back to her full power in order to bring about the end of humanity and allow monsters to rule the planet. In order to stop her, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence, led by Professor Broom, sends Hellboy to England to stop her rising, with Hellboy joining forces with Alice Monaghan, a medium who he rescued from fairies when she was a baby, and Ben Daimio, a soldier in the British equivalent of the BPRD. Now the big problem that the film has is the pacing. It’s a weird situation where it feels incredibly rushed, trying to get through the exposition scenes as fast as possible in order to get more action, but also really slow since the film gets bogged down in side elements that don’t really matter in the long run of the film. Pretty much the entire first half of the film could have been cut out and nothing of real significance would have been lost. The only element of importance is a reveal about the relationship between Hellboy and Broom, but the preamble to get there could have been cut out. It takes so long for Hellboy to find out about Nimue that there are very few scenes between the two together, meaning that when Nimue is tempting Hellboy to join her, the scenes feel incredibly rushed.
There is also a sense for me that certain elements of the film have been done better elsewhere. Aside from the obvious things that were done better in the Guillermo Del Toro films, the central plot of the film was done in a more mature fashion in The Kid Who Would Be King, whilst there are elements regarding Nimue that were done better in the most recent series of Doctor Who. For example, Nimue was defeated at Pendle Hill, the site of the Pendle Witch trials in the 17th Century. There is so much that could have been done to tie in Nimue with the Pendle Witches, in the way Doctor Who did in the episode The Witchfinders. It’s further clear that there is a sense of sequel baiting in the film. There are numerous characters introduced to be expanded upon in sequels, one character who seems important vanishes during a scene and doesn’t appear again, which means they’ve probably been earmarked for a sequel and there’s an appearance from Thomas Haden Church as Lobster Johnson who is blatant sequel bait. So much time was given to sequel baiting that a film we want to see a sequel to wasn’t made.
The performances are a mixed bag. David Harbour as Hellboy is decent enough, giving his version of Hellboy more of a petulant teenager vibe and doing a decent job selling a sense of resentment Hellboy has over his role with the BPRD in terms of having to kill monsters like him. Ian McShane is also decent as Professor Broom, having a suitably gruff attitude whilst showing a sense of love for Hellboy, in his own way, although we don’t get as strong a connection between the two as we got in the Del Toro films. Daniel Dae Kim as Ben Daimio meanwhile is okay, having a decent arc in learning to trust Hellboy. The rest of the performances though range from boring to outright bad. Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan is clearly trying and when she’s allowed to act non-verbally she’s pretty good. The problem with her performance comes with the accent she uses, which constantly fluctuates throughout the film and she can’t help but slip into her natural American accent throughout the film, which just distracted me throughout the film. Milla Jovovich as Nimue meanwhile is just boring to watch, she brings no life to the character and just didn’t make her an engaging villain. I found Stephen Graham to be a more engaging villain, but that was more because he was playing the bog standard Stephen Graham character, whilst Alastair Petrie and Sophie Okonedo are fairly bland in their performances.
On a technical level the film is a mixed bag. There are some decent make-up effects and practical creature designs but the make-up for Hellboy doesn’t quite work 100% for me. The big issue is the facial make-up, which restricts David Harbour’s ability to emote and means that he has pretty much the same facial expression throughout the film, limiting his acting ability. The gore effects meanwhile feel fake and the whole feel just feels gorey and nasty for the sake of being gorey and nasty and just gives the film a mean spirited edge that doesn’t work for the rest of the tone. The CG meanwhile is awful, some of the worst CG I’ve seen in a long time, most of it looks fake and you can blatantly tell that the characters aren’t there. This means that what should be engaging action scenes just look laughable. There’s one scene which is a long take of Hellboy fighting giants which should be very impressive but the camera is so close to Hellboy and the CG so bad that you can’t really make out what is going on.
Overall, Hellboy is a complete mess. There are some decent elements, but every element of the film has been done better in other films and TV shows and the behind the scenes issues with the film are blatantly obvious. There is nothing new or unique about this film and it just feels needlessly nasty and it just makes it clear we should have got Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy 3.
My Rating: 1.5/5