Hellboy (2019)

I’m not gonna totally contradict the conventional wisdom that HELLBOY (2019) is bad. I kinda thought it was bad for a while. But then it sort of won me over. I had more fun than expected, and talking about it with other people made me realize that yeah, overall I think I liked it.

Yes, it’s sloppy and choppy and takes itself less seriously than I’d like. I wasn’t surprised to read that there were tensions with the producers and that director Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT, but also DOOMSDAY) didn’t have final cut. The many rock ‘n roll needledrops (including a Spanish version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane”) and electric guitars on the score by Benjamin Wallfisch (IT, SERENITY) make it seem like it’s making a joke out of folk tale stuff that I think would be much cooler if treated respectfully, and the combination of a lower budget and higher volume of digital FX than Guillermo Del Toro’s two movies make it look chintzy by comparison. But there are tons of cool monsters, funny lines, colorful bits of mythology, and a splattery, lowbrow rowdiness that’s pretty fun whether or not it’s in the Hellboy spirit.

Marshall and writer Andrew Cosby (no relation) stay closer to the source material than Del Toro, or at least pull more from it. The best bits are little short story vignettes or tangents. He fights a luchador that transforms into a cool bat monster when unmasked, hunts three giants, fights some of the weirdest creatures that ever attacked a city, recalls an encounter with a pig monster disguised to replace a baby that was stolen by fairies.

Translated into live action, that monster (called Gruagach and voiced by Stephen Graham, PIT FIGHTER), like Hellboy’s arch-nemesis, the Russian witch Baba Yaga (voice of Emma Tate, CORPSE BRIDE), can’t match the unique vibe of Mike Mignola’s drawings. But I mean, it’s a talking animatronic boar head with cg enhancements, and a bizarrely tangled up hag monster (performed by contortionist “Twisty” Troy James) who slurps on bowls of human-child-soup, believes Hellboy owes her one of his eyeballs, and lives in a house that walks on giant chicken legs. Of course I get some joy out of that!

I also dug the movie’s lead villain, Nimue the Blood Queen, played by Milla Jovovich the Digital FX-Laden Action-Horror B-Movie Queen. Her body parts are reunited centuries after King Arthur (Mark Stanley, a Knight of Ren from THE FORCE AWAKENS) chopped her up and spread her around Europe. Although she originally got killed for creating the Black Plague, she doesn’t act like she thinks she’s evil. She thinks bringing on the apocalypse is a great unifier, and tries to convince Hellboy of this. She also has a couple scenes as a spiteful talking severed head, and one with a cartoony dangling eyeball after half her head gets blown off. I like her.

(Note: I didn’t catch that she’s the “Lady of the Lake.” Alot of gratitude King Arthur showed her for tossing him Excalibur.)

Controversially, Hellboy has been recast. I do prefer Ron Perlman’s interpretation because he seems a little less immature, his makeup is much more appealing and he understands that he looks better with his hair up. But I had no trouble accepting David Harbour (A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES) in the role. He gets a bunch of laughs, like when BPRD agents find him face down on a bar and he claims he’s not Hellboy, but some guy name “Josh” who looks similar.

Sometimes it seems like it was made for people who didn’t know there were other Hellboy movies. It doesn’t play very well that Hellboy is shocked to find out he’s supposed to bring on the apocalypse, because that was the basic premise of the previous movies. And it hardly seems like a thrill when the mid-credits sequence hints at bringing Abe Sapien into the movies, since we already saw him as a main character in the two other movies. “Oooh yeah, FINALLY they’re gonna do him not as well as the first two times.” Seems like they coulda teased some character we haven’t seen in a movie.

It also seems to have been made to only be watched for a few years and then be completely forgotten. Otherwise why would you have punchlines about Uber and Twitter? You get it, because Hellboy knows about Uber and Twitter. They’re apps. (I admit I did laugh that he kept cracking the screen on his phone trying to touch it with his stone-like fingers.)

I’m glad they ditched Del Toro’s idea that Hellboy has to keep his existence secret like the Men In Black or some shit. Here sometimes he wears a hoodie to keep a low profile, but mostly he can just walk around in public and be himself because that’s the premise. There’s a Hellboy. Deal with it.

Hellboy seems most competent when he’s referring to things that happened off screen. I like that they talk about different adventures and don’t have to flash back to all of them. It would also be cool if there were more members of his team who he already has relationships, but the introduction of British agent who hates him at first Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim, 15 MINUTES) is pretty effective. And there’s a sweet big brother relationship with Alice (Sasha Lane, AMERICAN HONEY), who he knew a long time ago and forces the bureau to accept her on the case. I wish there was more than the epilogue to see these three acting comfortably as an established team.

In that sense there’s some origin here (and they quickly revisit Hellboy’s birth, this time with Leni Riefenstahl [Kristina Klebe, Lynda from Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN] filming it for Nazi propaganda), and there’s a sequel set-up during the credits. But overall I think this plays like a comic book movie from before extended cinematic universes. They throw Hellboy into a whole lot of crazy shit – it never feels like they’re saving things for later. And that was a wise decision, because I don’t think there will be a later. Cramming so much in there makes for a messier story, but I appreciate that it keeps things exciting. Is it elegantly told? No. Does it have a character who vomits out a long tentacle that forms itself into the shape of dead people so they can speak to the living? Yes. I’m not saying a combination of the two isn’t possible, but I’m willing to settle for just one when I have to.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2019 at 12:41 pm and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Hellboy (2019)”

  1. I too learned to fully like this one upon thinking about it more. I was more positive leaving the theater than most though.

    Thought it was an odd choice to do a new version of a Hellboy movie and instead of being more like the comics, they decided to make it just a trashier and cheaper version of the del Toro ones. But I guess I’ll take it. Not broken up about no sequels to this one but I’m also not broken up about us not getting del Toro’s HELLBOY 3.

    If more filmmakers want to put Milla Jovovich in their movies as the bad guy, I’d be super down for that.

  2. For all the hate this got, I gotta say, I had a blast with it. Was it high art? Definitely not. But any movie with this many cool monsters and this much gleeful splattery gore I just can’t hate on it, it was a blast. At the end part where all the demons were slaughtering everyone I leaned over to my buddy and said “this movie is metal as fuck” and he agreed. Good stuff. I still wish Del Toro could’ve finished his trilogy though and Perlman is definitely the better Hellboy.

  3. I didn’t hate this movie, but I was a bit disappointed. I remember the movie being sold as closer in spirit to the comics than Del Toro’s movies, which is only kinda true. On paper there’s a lot of fun Hellboy stuff (a vampire luchador, baba yaga, a boar-man, giants, zombies, witches, Nazi occultists, Lobster Johnson etc) but in execution it’s all just a big jumble of clumsily-edited fight scenes, constant exposition and on-the-nose needle-drops. I figured with the lower budget they’d pare things down to simple monster-of-the-week type story (you know, like the comics), but instead they decided to retread the epic apocalyptic story of the original movie but with less money. I liked Harbour’s performance as Hellboy, but his costume was butt-ugly and not in a cool way.

  4. Well, they definitely nailed the casting of Hellboy. Harbour is great. I thought he was funnier, tougher, and not as much of a baby as Perlman’s Hellboy. Harbour’s Hellboy does his fair share of whining and has big time daddy issues, but he isn’t saddled with all the immature baby-man stuff that GDT threw into his first Hellboy movie (a jealousy-filled gradeschool romance with Liz, a pickup truck-bed full of cats, getting “grounded” if he breaks the rules during a mission, etc). I also thought the Hellboy makeup looked cooler this time around. The Harbour makeup looked meaner and more weathered than Perlman’s shinier, cleaner look.

    The movie attempts to mash together as many Hellboy comic stories as it can and throws a lot of big, weird shit at you. I appreciated the ambition on display, buttttttt…the execution kind of stinks. All the Hellboy story-mashing makes the movie feel rushed and disjointed. It looks cheap and doesn’t have the budget to pull off most of the big cg effects. Also, the generic HARD ROCK music is pretty bad and it felt like Milla was performing for an audience of 5 year olds.

    But the movie is worth a watch at some point because Harbour’s really good and there are a few inspired moments (baba yaga). Oh and Thomas Haden Church cosplays as Lobster Johnson. I was NOT a fan of his first appearance in the movie (he shows up during a sequence that feels like a crowdfunded recreation of GDT’s Hellboy 1 origin scene), but the post credits bit with Hellboy and Lobster is one of the best scenes in the movie.

  5. Guillermo Del Toro’ should own the property and rights to Hell Boy at this point, and all we ever wanted was on last hurrah in a Hellboy:III with 69 year old Ron Perlman, let’s face it he’s getting old but he still has it, and see the old cast , Doug Jones, Selma Blair and give us a final goodbye and end in a trilogy. The fact that this isn’t that movie and isn’t those actors makes me just not the generation that cares and I wish I never got to see it made. The making of The Shape of Water just feels like it should have been filmed alongside a Hellboy : III … And seeing this new movie just feels like I’m watching the replacement walk in the days before an untimely death. Sort of the new puppy before the old dog died. I don’t like it , I won’t watch it and I don’t care, just looking at scenes from the movie I can tell it has no where near the passion of the old films and just looks like a cheesy low budget knockoff.

  6. Guillermo Del Toro’ should own the property and rights to Hell Boy at this point, and all we ever wanted was on last hurrah in a Hellboy:III with 69 year old Ron Perlman, let’s face it he’s getting old but he still has it, and see the old cast , Doug Jones, Selma Blair and give us a final goodbye and end in a trilogy. The fact that this isn’t that movie and isn’t those actors makes me just not the generation that cares and I wish I never got to see it made. The making of The Shape of Water just feels like it should have been filmed alongside a Hellboy : III … And seeing this new movie just feels like I’m watching the replacement walk in the days before an untimely death. Sort of the new puppy before the old dog died. I don’t like it , I won’t watch it and I don’t care, just looking at scenes from the movie I can tell it has no where near the passion of the old films and just looks like a cheesy low budget knockoff.

  7. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 30th, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    Speaking of Baba Yaga (which I thought was the coolest part of this film), it’s the only thing that kinda always bothered me about JOHN WICK. You have the greatest badass of all time, the ultimate assassin, and the nickname you give him is that of an old witch who lives in a house that walks around on chicken legs? I just don’t get the thinking there – although it’s more likely there was no thinking and they just thought it sounded cool. Funny thing is, Russians would definitely know the fairy tales of Baba Yaga, but in the movie it’s a Russian gangster that speaks the name out loud with awe like it’s heavy shit (maybe Viggo even gave him the name?)

  8. See, I don’t get the assumption everybody has that Del Toro’s Hellboy was this impeccable high water mark for comic book movies. I liked them back in the day and I’m not going to argue that they’re not good, but I wonder if all the people rhapsodizing about them have watched them since they came out. They (mostly) look great and Perlman is great, but they feel very of their time. Granted in the last few years I’ve discovered the Hellboy comics and I love those deeply, so I’ll freely admit to being one of those comic book fans who resents all the changes, but the movies took the premise and design of the characters and essentially created a separate property. Part 2 especially feels closer to the world of Harry Potter than Hellboy. Nothing wrong with that, but this new movie felt doomed from the start with all the outrage over someone other than Del Toro adapting Hellboy as if he had made the definitive version of the story when in reality he only superficially adapted the source material.

    Hellboy ’19 is kind of a fascinating mess in that it has almost equal parts of legitimately great stuff and how-did-this-get-in-the-movie terrible stuff. It almost plays like an unfinished workprint and just reeks of producer interference. The upside is that this got tagged as a stinker so immediately that a lot of people will probably watch it over the next few months with rock bottom expectations and enjoy it much more than they expected.

  9. I’m glad to hear somebody had fun with this, because I admit the monsters in the trailer looked pretty cool and it piqued my curiosity when I heard it was super violent. I’ll definitely check it out when it comes streaming on something, with adequately low expectations.

    That said, Del Toro needs to be able to make his final film in the trilogy, if that’s what he wants to do. I don’t consider either of his previous HELLBOYs untouchable masterpieces, but they’ve got a lot of heart, they make great use of Del Toro’s eye-popping imagination, and Hellboy himself is a career highlight for Perlman. If these guys are passionate about doing it, they need to be able to do it, and I will support whatever Democratic candidate promises to make it a priority.

    That having been said, Del Toro could definitely help this process by being a little more flexible about the budget. I feel like he’s gotten a little lazy over the years by expecting huge budgets so he can just throw every idea he has at the CGI guys and expect them to pull it off. I’d love it if he returned to Hellboy and used it as a reason to return to his younger, more inventive days, when he got amazing mileage from tiny budgets by being a little more flexible and inventive with his vision and the tools he used to create it.

  10. I’ve got to hand it to a movie that’s this ridiculously… fangorious – I’m finding it hard to think of another film that dwells on gore, blood and oozing wounds so lovingly. It’s also ridiculously generous in the amount of stuff it crams in there. But yeah, the execution is crap. And not just in the tacky effects (which I mostly liked!) – It’s as comedic as Del Toro’s films, but unlike them it doesn’t have a consistent tone or themes to anchor them other than a cheap nihilism and a desire to be AF as possible (AFAP). And that undercuts everything else in the film, even when the script tries to go dark or reaches for a more emotional response. The whole thing is just a collection of barely characterized characters, barely humorous humor, tons of monsters and weird shit, and blood by the gallon. I’ll take it, but would never call it good; can’t even say it even approaches good.

  11. With both this and Pacific Rim 2, it seems like every follow up to a Del Toro film not directed by Del Toro has to have both more FX shots and shittier special effects. It’s like there’s some sort of law in effect.

    I still don’t know what Lion’s Gate thought was going to happen with this movie. I heard that Del Toro wanted a lot of money for his trilogy capper, but the this reboot made about twenty million in 2019 when the original made like 60 million in 2004. There’s still some goodwill towards those movies, and Del Toro just won best picture. Just from a financial perspective, this seemed like a bad bet.

  12. Dreadguacamole — and the words that we taught the kids were fangorious, gelatinous, and, um…. line…backer?

  13. Biggest reason why I kinda have to defend this mess of a movie:

    “Lady, quit while you’re… a head.”

  14. Consider me one of the philistines who thinks this is a massive improvement over the del Toro versions. I liked those movies at the time because they seemed like something different. Back then, it was a novelty to see a movie led by a giant red guy. Now that we live in a world where massive blockbusters are routinely headlined by talking raccoons, it’s a lot less impressive. You start to notice how much of their running times are taken up by bullshit rom-com crap and lame slapstick. I used to be disappointed that they didn’t close out the trilogy, but now I’m cool with it. Do we REALLY need to see Hellboy deal with changing diapers and shit like he’s a lovable lug on a Jim Belushi sitcom? I truly don’t know what del Toro saw in HELLBOY that made him want to focus on that stuff. It’s like he read a completely different comic book than I did.

    By contrast, this movie chooses to spend its screentime on weird monsters, gory set-pieces, and heavy metal album cover hellscapes. The comic was never a favorite of mine, but that seem much more in keeping with what made it unique (the feeling that there is heaps of arcane lore lurking behind every single little corner of the universe) than whatever fuckin’ Kevin James shit del Toro thought he was doing. I give it up for the design and effects work of those movies, which do make this one look a little chintzy, but who gives a fuck when the set-pieces are this deliriously loaded with insane monstery stuff? We got Hellboy fighting three giants with a sword the size of a cigarette boat in one continuous shot. We got crazy fucking vagina monsters tearing Londoners apart in the streets and parading their corpses around on their shins. We got the best comic relief pig monster this side of that Ninja Turtles sequel nobody saw. We got Ian MacShane playing the exact same vulgar tough-love stepdad he played in HOT ROD but as a ghost made out of intestines. We got knights wearing proton packs. We got Thomas Haden Church as a corny pulp-era Nazi hunter, played totally straight. We got a fucking luchadore werebat. (On that note, how does the version directed by the Brit have more Mexicans in it than either of del Toro’s?) We got severed torsos flying around like divots on a golf course. I love this shit.

    And this is probably sacrilege, but I liked Harbour’s Hellboy more than Perlman’s. The makeup looks more imposing and less rubbery (the chest hair goes a long way), and I liked the notes of blubbery mega he brought to Hellboy’s deadpan exasperation. In retrospect, Perlman was just too fuckin’ cuddly.

    This new HELLBOY is far from an elegant story, but it moves at a clip and continuously gives you something new to look at. Add up all this good shit and it creates a more interesting and expansive universe than the reheated and claustrophobic MEN IN BLACK knockoff del Toro brought to the table. It might not be as classy as those films, but that’s fine. I’ll take trashy over classy any day.

  15. Boy am I glad Majestyk said it first because I didn’t want to be the first guy to say I liked Hellboy ’19 more than the GDT ones (and I liked those fine) This is fun and exciting and endlessly inventive, with great creature designs and gore gags but more importantly new characters you actually care about and an awesome lead performance by Harbour. He’s hilarious without being a snarky one-liner machine like Tony Stark or Deadpool; he’s sympathetic and likable but also a complete fucking moron and I love how the movie leans into that. I prefer him to Perlman’s version too.

    Speaking of hot takes, this might be my favorite Neil Marshall joint. Granted, I haven’t seen them all but I never understood the fuss over Dog Soldiers and I thought The Descent completely imploded near the end. Here he maintains a fun tone and lively pace, gets great work out of his actors, and those showy one-take action scenes are delightful. I know it’s a shame GDT didn’t get to finish his trilogy but this kinda goes over the same thematic ground and the climax feels like what would have happened in Hellboy 3 anyway. (It’s like they’re tying up loose ends before they move on to a brand new adventure we’ll never get) In an age where every franchise movie is a Force Awakens-style remake disguised as a sequel, I kinda like that Hellboy ’19 could almost pass as a sequel disguised as a reboot.

  16. Eh, I don’t know. Finally watched it and I won’t hold it against anybody who is able to enjoy it in an AvP way (“If you pretend that it’s a standalone movie without any connections to other pre-existing properties, it’s kinda okay, I guess”), but damn, that was one ugly, misguided and most of all boring movie. Okay, in the end it’s still one with a bunch of cool looking fantasy creatures talking shit and punching each other, also Milla Jovovich gives her most inspired performance since THE FIFTH ELEMENT, so there is at least SOME reason to not totally hate it, but damn…

  17. I just saw this and… Kinda thought it was not terrible?

    You will be relieved to know that we still use Uber in the future, but “Twitter” is now called X.

    Ian McShane was a real low point for me however. Does this guy ever do anything besides Mr Wednesday??? It seems like his whole schtick is being a tough sarcastic drawling overacting know it all. I don’t exactly expect him to be the romantic lead but seriously the guy is one note all day long.

    The psychic kid was also a little painful in the acting department I hate to say. The director was clearly doing quick cuts to avoid having her in the frame for too long.

    Hellboy himself was really ugly in a bad way. Just terrible design and painful to look at. The actor surprisingly did really well under all of that crap though. Unfortunately you just can’t compete with Perlman.

    But overall I was pleasantly surprised. Baba Yaga was actually a cannibal witch on a chicken house! The fight with the 3 giants was not bad! The pig man character was amusing and actually somewhat sympathetic. Mila was shot well and looked good on camera (acting was a bit off but what do you expect). The Hawaii Five O guy actually looked pretty badass.

    However I am sorry, that were-jaguar thing was just terrible.

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