Other than as blatant studio IP management, there is no real reason for this Hellboy to exist. Some executive realized, hey, we have a superhero comic book character just sitting there, going unused, waiting for franchise rebirth. The problem is that the first two Hellboy films, while not particularly huge moneymakers, have a loyal fanbase that have been clamoring for a third Guillermo del Toro entry for years. So, determined to please no one, we have a new Hellboy film with an entirely new creative team and (mostly terrible) cast. While del Toro has his detractors, even they would likely admit that he’s a gifted world-builder and production designer, with a great eye for weird creatures and fun, detailed patterns and designs. This new film has been helmed by Neil Marshall, who has none of those talents. To be clear, Marshall is a solid genre craftsman and has made some very good films, particularly The Descent and Dog Soldiers (and this critic absolutely adores the much loathed Doomsday). But Marshall works best in tight, claustrophobic environments, his characters fighting against largely unseen forces, be it werewolves or cave-dwelling cannibal thingies. Hellboy requires expansive conceptualization; the best that Marshall and screenwriter Andrew Cosby can muster is re-staging Hellboy’s origin sequence from the original film, and cribbing the main narrative hook from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. So, once again, we’re made to ponder the usual dilemma: is Hellboy a force for good, or a force of evil? Marshall also dumps ream upon ream of expository nonsense on us, having characters stop every few minutes to explain what just happened and what is going to happen next. It’s awful writing, full of flashbacks that look like reshoots and aborted or truncated subplots (there’s a whole bit about a character, instantly useful to the team, fighting off a transformation into a leopard creature — and then it’s just tossed-off that he can essentially turn back into a human whenever he wants).
Determined to please no one, we have a new Hellboy film with an entirely new creative team and (mostly terrible) cast.
Hellboy is not only a slog, it’s an eyesore to watch, with the worst kind of digital cinematography, courtesy of DP Lorenzo Senatore (whose credits include Swap Shark, Miami Magma, and Arachnoquake), everything looking cheap and dingy, having no sense of texture, and no depth of field. Marshall’s images are awash in a fallow gray smear; there’s no pop to the color. There’s no deep blacks, a huge problem for a film with a long prologue sequence that’s supposed to be in black and white. One can only assume it was meddled with during post-production, as everything has the same color correction, flattening every scene into the same fuzzy morass. The sets are flimsy and unimaginative, with the exception of one great sequence where Hellboy meets with the deeply disturbing witch Baba Yaga, a scene that hints at how this movie could have gone creepier and darker, as Hellboy’s wisecracking, angsty teen routine curdles into anger at the sight of half-eaten children. Instead, Marshall treats this as merely a momentary blip, and then returns to a meandering, nonsensical plot, and its half-assed characters. David Harbour is a mediocre Hellboy, with none of the gruff charm of del Toro’s perfectly-cast Ron Perlman, and Ian McShane sleepwalks his way to an easy paycheck as Hellboy’s adoptive father. Milla Jovovich seems to be having fun as Nimue, the Blood Queen, but that character’s origins are inexplicably tied not only to Hellboy’s, but also to Arthurian legend, Merlin, and Excalibur itself. Yeah, none of it makes any sense. It’s a shame, but I’m sure the studio will take another crack at the franchise in a few years. You can’t keep a moderately well-known intellectual property down for long.