Cinema Dispatch: Hellboy

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Hellboy and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Neil Marshall

So… we’re NOT gonna get a Hellboy 3?  Okay, just wanted to make sure!  Well there’s certainly no reason to just STOP making Hellboy movies just because he’s not gonna make one, so let’s get ready to reboot!  I mean when you’ve got a setup as good as DUDE WHO LOOKS LIKE THE DEVIL PUNCHES MONSTERS, there’s no WAY you can go wrong even if you don’t have Del Toro helming it, right!?  Is this the next best thing to getting a conclusion to the previous Hellboy movies, or is this a sad remind of what could have been?  Let’s find out!!

Hellboy (David Harbour) is your average guy with a decent job and perhaps the beginings of a drinking problem.  Okay, he’s also a red demon with a giant arm and horns growing out of his head, but looks are only skin deep, and this guy is just like you and me on the inside; suffering silently in this living nightmare we call life while putting on a tough face to try and cope!  Hellboy’s latest reason to cope is that one his pals at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense was turned into a vampire and Hellboy (most likely accidently) had to finish him off before he started ripping out other people’s throats.  Not a great way to start the work week if you ask me, but he must solider on as a crisis in London sends him to Europe where coincidentally a legendary monster known as Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) is being brought back to life so as to wreak unholy havoc on the world.  Well I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a job for Hellboy and his cast of wacky sidekicks including Alice (Sasha Lane) who can talk to ghosts and Ben (Daniel Dae Kim) who’s basically a living GI Joe action figure who seems to be harboring a secret of his own.  Can the BPRD and its leader Ian McShane) who also considers himself Hellboy’s father manage to stop The Blood Queen before it’s too late?  Can Hellboy focus on the task at hand when things continually get in his way and remind him of just how unwanted he is in the world of humans?  Can someone teach this boy how to comb his hair?  It just looks sloppy when you’re supposed to be at work!

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“You know we have a dress code.”     “Does it look like I care?”

I don’t know why, but I have such a strong urge to be NICE to this movie despite it being… well, pretty dang bad!  What’s good about the movie isn’t all that great and what’s bad is VERY cringeworthy to say the least, and yet there’s still a lot of POTENTIAL in what’s been set up here that I kind of want to see if they can get it right if given another shot.  Still, even if they get a second movie I can’t imagine it being so much better that it can somehow go from being the rather miserable experience we’ve got here to something GENUINELY good. Stranger things have happened to be sure, but even examples like Thor Ragnarok or The Dark Knight (I’m really not that big of a fan of Batman Begins) had a much stronger foundation to build off of than what we have here.  It has an interesting take on Hellboy that’s distinctive from Ron Perlman, and it certainly FEELS like something that’s more accurate to the comics even though I’ve never read them, but when all is said and done it’s just not that good of a movie.  Del Toro understood what it meant to take something like this and transform it into a cinematic experience which is why I wish they let him make his third film instead of whatever the heck this was trying to be, BUT since we’re all living in the worst timeline right now I GUESS I can kinda see what they were going for here.

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“Yeah, I uh… totally meant to do that…”

So what is it about this movie that I ACTUALLY like?  First off, I like David Harbour’s interpretation even if the script isn’t quite there.  He’s very childish and awkward unlike the much more self-assured Ron Perlman who… well is still KINDA awkward but is better at compensating for it.  It’s a younger Hellboy that lacks the wisdom and tact of his older self and I think Harbour plays it with enough vulnerability to make it endearing… at least for the most part.  I don’t want to put this on Harbour who’s trying his heart out, but sometimes Hellboy is just annoying and straight up whiny which is unfortunate because so much of the movie is centered on him and what HE does to progress the story which means that you kind of have to just DEAL with his bitching and moaning since no one else is really there to check him or for his actions to have consequences that everyone else has to clean up.  The only one who KIND of keeps him in his place is Ian McShane as Hellboy’s father and gives a very solid performance as well, but even he seems to realize that Hellboy is gonna Hellboy and lets him run amuck for the most part.  The other actors are fine but nothing to write home about like Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim who don’t have nearly as much chemistry or screen presence as Doug Jones and Selma Blair did in the Del Toro films, and MIlla Jovovich is fine playing the bad guy here, but… well we’ll get to her soon enough.  HAPPY THOUGHTS!  Let’s get back to what is good.  Uh… some of the action is fun!  The film basically has one trick that it pulls out twice in the movie that actually works quite well which is single shot action scenes, but everything else is just kinda meh.  Not terrible, but a lot more standard for mid-budget action fluff.  Is that it?  Yeah, I think that’s about it.

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“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?”

Like I said, what’s good about this movie isn’t THAT good, and now that we’ve got that out of the way we might as well dive right in!  Number one with a bullet is the plotting which frankly is an absolute joke.  It feels like the movie expects you to already have full knowledge of these characters and the comic book history which I GUESS is something of a selling point for the more faithful fans out there, but for everyone else it feels like we’re being plopped into the second season of a Netflix superhero show.  I guess we just missed the episode where Hellboy fought off Baba Yaga who is… important?  I guess?  Oh, but they DO try to catch you up every once in a while with absurdly long and frankly unnecessary exposition dumps; complete with long flashbacks and the sneaking suspicion that our characters have been standing still for like ten minutes waiting for the person to stop talking.  Come to think of it, I don’t even remember the justification for cutting to Alice’s backstory.  I’m sure the characters had more important things to be doing at that time, but a funny sketch about a baby pig monster just HAD to have of been told and couldn’t have been more delicately placed in the film.  They also just FLY by important information which I can’t really spoil here, but at least one character who gets a decent amount of screen time and significant framing is killed off-screen and unceremoniously, and there’s a revelation about Hellboy that SOUNDED pretty important but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why it was important to the movie.  It has to do with a MacGuffin, but the thing about a MacGuffin is that they’re supposed to work WITH the story; not add unnecessary bloat to it.  Again, this revelation could be in the comic books for all I know, but it’s so awkwardly handled here that I could barely even register it.  Sadly, what might be the most wasted aspect of the movie is the villain played by the wonderful Milla Jovovich who is is underdeveloped and nonsensical.  She’s barely in the movie to start with, and even when she is she’s not doing all that much.  You never get a sense of her relative threat (is she supposed to be a blood bender?) or even a clear sense of what her ultimate goals are.  It’s basically a rip off of The Mummy down to her strolling the streets of London killing everyone within eye shot, but even that movie had a much richer and well developed antagonists.  I never got the sense that she was being forthright with her motives as she didn’t REALLY seem to care about the monsters which her stated goal, but if that’s the case then what DOES she want?  Power?  Fine, I guess, but isn’t that just kinda… boring?  I mean for a movie that has such an attitude and that carries itself with such a knowing wink to its silly premise, it ends up feeling utterly hollow when it’s mostly there to cover up a woefully deficient production.

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“You WILL put in the Maleficent sequel!”     “They already finished filming it!”     “LIAR!!”

So to go back to the original question, why do I STILL feel like defending this movie?  Maybe I’m just a softie for seeing certain kinds of performances, but it really comes down to how much I ALMOST enjoyed David Harbour’s performance and the kind of movie it was trying to be.  Clearly this is not a well-constructed movie, but there are moments where it all comes together in a way that gives the Del Toro movie a run for its money.  Harbour’s Hellboy is SO vulnerable and clearly wears his heart on his sleeve that even in moments where this movie isn’t working you can STILL feel for the guy and want to see him succeed and this kind of ends up extending to other parts of the movie.  It’s basically what Suicide Squad also failed to do in that it’s getting into the specific mindset of an angry and fragile teenager who wants to look cool, act cool, and see this sense of coolness reflected on screen.  Where this film ends up succeeding over Suicide Squad despite sharing many of the same film making issues is that it has Hellboy BE that character and lets his arc be about his vulnerability; his inability to fit in with the world and how it feels like everything is constantly going against him.  He’s persecuted constantly which, right or not, is what a lot of teenage boys feel, and it even has a good message about it at the end.  I won’t spoil too much, but given the choice between… let’s say ANGER and SELF-REFLECTION he makes the right choice and perhaps it’s important that a movie like this shows its target audience that kind of choice.  That’s all there in this movie, but it’s buried under just as much try hard crap with a spotty and somewhat mean spirited sense of humor as well as copious amounts of gore that frankly look rather lousy and isn’t what’s gonna sell tickets for this.  It’s constantly fighting against itself whether it wants to unironically be snotty and lowbrow or if it’s saying something about it, but maybe if this does well enough and a sequel is green lit they’ll finally come to a decision on that.  Hopefully it’s the right one.

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“GAWD!  GET OUT OF MY ROOM, DAD!!”

You can probably cut about thirty minutes of out of this movie and call it a decent enough start for something better, but I’m not about to hold my breath for this series.  I do have a soft spot for go for broke failures like this which have such a niche appeal that it’ll be beloved by a fan base who no one else will understand, and frankly we’re more likely to get a sequel to THIS movie than Jupiter Ascending.  Will it be better the second time around?  Probably not SIGNIFICANTLY, but then I enjoyed Hellboy 2 more than the first Del Toro one so maybe this will go from pretty bad to mildly enjoyable once they figure out what a script is supposed to look like.  I wouldn’t really recommend seeing it in theaters unless you’re a fan of the comics which this seems to be much more faithful to than the Del Toro movies, but then I don’t read Hellboy comics and neither do a lot of people so most of you will probably be better off watching the original on Netflix and wait for this to show up there as well.  Now if they wanted to go all X-Men with this and have Ron Perlman show up in the next film as FUTURE Hellboy, THEN we’d have something worth going out to see!

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