What the hell happened with Hellboy?

It feels like the Hellboy remake was damned from the start. So what the hell happened and is it as bad as what everyone is saying?

Movie poster art featuring Hellboy at the centre and various members of the BPRD.

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There was a couple of bitter pills people needed to swallow as soon as the remake of Hellboy was announced. The first one being that we’re not going to have Ron Perlman, an actor who was seemingly born to play this character, involved and the other being that this remake seems to have dashed any hope for seeing a third Hellboy movie to close out Guillermo Del Toro’s trilogy.

Now while the Del Toro Hellboy movies were fantastic—particularly the first film which was loosely based on the Seed of Destruction comic—the second Hellboy movie was written solely by Del Toro and we got something that was, in my opinion, a little removed from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s vision.

Full disclosure, I’m a Hellboy, fanboy. They are easily my favourite comics. From the gothic, stained glass style art of Mignola to the stories rich in folklore from a variety of different cultures. It’s an amazing concept, and an incredible character. I almost wish they’d make a television series similar to the X-Files because I think done correctly, it could be a wonderful thing. Maybe they should have tried that instead of this fiasco?

Yes Hellboy is a bit of a mess but it’s not as bad as a lot of reviews would have you believe. Anyone who says it’s the worst comic book film of all time is full of shit and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. There’s plenty that are much worse, like Catwoman, Daredevil or the 2015 dumpster fire that was Fantastic Four.

Who made it?

Anyone familiar with the work of director Neil Marshall—the man behind the awesome Dog Soldiers, thoroughly decent The Descent and some of the best episodes of Game of Thrones—would have thought our favourite half-man, half-half demon was in safe hands. Unfortunately it looks like Marshall lost all control of this production thanks to some meddling producers and actors who perhaps should have had their leashes shortened.

What the hell happened?

Anonymous sources from the set have alleged producers Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin made an example out of Marshall’s cinematographer buddy Sam McCurdy and fired him in right out of the gates. Possibly sending a message to show who’s boss however, their lawyers have denied this claim.

There was drama in front of the camera as well, star David Harbour apparently would walk off set when asked to do more takes and together with co-star Ian McShane helped others to re-write the script during filming. It’s also alleged that Lloyd Levin continued to meddle with the production overruling Marshall and giving alternate direction to the cast and crew. It’s been speculated that poor old Neil didn’t even get final cut on the film, turning it in to the evil producers who likely made changes after the fact.

It does seem convenient that this information comes to light in the wake of some pretty scathing reviews.

The story

The thing that got a lot of Hellboy fans excited about this film in the first place was the move back towards Mignola’s stories. The film is based around the Hellboy series, Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury. These are all excellent comics and you should definitely go read them if you need to have your faith restored after seeing this film.

The crux of the story is that Hellboy is in England hunting giants when a witch who was killed by King Arthur is brought back to life to unleash a plague that will make the world a much nicer place for monsters. Hellboy is of course out to stop her but is conflicted being that he too is a monster and the world, in it’s current state, isn’t as suited to him as it could be if the Blood Queen witch lady has her way. I really don’t need to say much more because there is a tonne of exposition in this movie, it’s packed with narration, general handholding and almost every major character gets a short origin story on introduction. It feels like they’re making an assumption that anyone who has paid to go and see this movie is a fucking idiot. Maybe they’re right?

The cast

Mila Jovovich, phones her performance in as the Blood Queen but really, has she done anything decent since the fifth element? I’m kind of on the fence about Ian McShane who, to his credit, is getting a lot of work at the moment, but as a result seems to turn in a similar character every time (in this case he plays Hellboy’s adoptive dad, and BRPRD chief professor Broom). Sasha Lane was really good as Alice Monaghan the psychic who’s favourite party trick is to project the sprits of the dead from her mouth like greasy CGI sausages. Daniel Dae Kim was excellent as the shape-shifting agent Ben Daimio and Thomas Haden Church was perfectly cast as Lobster Johnson, even though his appearance was super brief.

To his credit, David Harbour is actually a really good Hellboy. Whether it’s fair or not there’s obviously going to be tonne of comparisons to Perlman flying around but his portrayal is a gritty, less deadpan version that I think totally works and you can tell he’s really put in the effort to know the character. It sucks that this movie tanked because I’d really like to see more of him as this character and I don’t know if that is ever likely to happen.

The verdict

The movie is just a mess.

The soundtrack mixes an orchestral score by Benjamin Walfisch with a mixed bag of rock and other stuff including songs from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Muse, Los Lobos, Alice Cooper and Motley Crue. It felt like these extra tunes were added after the fact to jazz some of the action up a bit.

The practical effects and monsters are great, the CGI is bad. The gore was gratuitous and a lot of fun. I was pretty indifferent about the overuse of the word fuck, because it wasn’t all that true to the comics or the characters, but the R rating worked for Deadpool so it’s obvious as to why they’ve done it here.

There’s been a lot of commentary about the look of Hellboy in this one with the prosthetics perhaps limiting David Harbour’s range when playing the character. I thought this was actually a much closer representation of the Hellboy we know from the comics when compared to Del Toro’s. In the comics the only way you get any shred of emotions from Hellboy is through his eyes and bottom jaw, and the make up they used here stayed true to that.

The worst part is the editing. This would have to be one of the most poorly edited films I have ever seen. Jumping jarringly from one scene to the next, not knowing how characters showed up or where they came from and how much time had passed was particularly annoying. A lot of it felt out of sequence.

It’s not all bad—David Harbour’s portrayal did the character justice and a lot of the character design was true to the comics—but this movie was like trying to put together a script where someone neglected to number the pages and then threw it into the wind.


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