‘Hellboy’ is drunk, but tries valiantly to not go home

I really don’t understand why they went with the “grow horns out and end the world” scenario again. Your core audience here, the only people who are going to show up for this, remember a much better version of this plot point in the 2004 adaptation. Images courtesy Lionsgate.

2/10 Hellboy isnt’ just terrible. It’s stylishly terrible.

In Tijuana, Hellboi (David Harbour), a half-demon known as the world’s greatest paranormal investigator, is forced to kill Esteban Ruiz (Mario de la Rosa), a colleague and drinking buddy who had been turned into a vampire. Hellboi is troubled at the ease with which Ruiz was written off once he became a monster. He carries this with him into his next mission in England, where the blood queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a fifth century witch who was dismembered by King Arthur, threatens to cover the land in a second plague.

Hellboy 2019 was sold as a mashup of elements from other popular comic book movies, a significant chunk of jukebox musical after Guardians of the Galaxy’s popularity, mixed with the hard-R rating – which is generated mostly through yelled, slurred curses and gore – that proved to be a draw with Deadpool. They’ve also ripped off the heavily edited long-shot action sequences I hate from the Kingsman series, where they use a wider aspect ratio to simulate camera shake because they actually wanted camera shake in their action scenes.

It’s a ripe concept, but the execution is lacking because of some pretty outrageous production problems. Apparently there were actors walking off the set, producers contradicting director Neil Marshall, now everybody’s lawyered up – it’s messy. As revealed in the bizarre and still-developing story about Charlotte Kirk, apparently Marshall himself couldn’t stay on the set, and split time between working on Hellboy and trying to help her find work.

Editor Martin Bernfeld clearly didn’t have all the footage he needed, and what seems to have happened is he cobbled the half-finished scenes together, and then tried to forge that editing style into a consistent aesthetic. Everything feels rushed and half-done, but the most consistent giveaway is the obviously dubbed audio. It feels like half the lines in Hellboy are delivered by a character who is either off-screen or not facing the camera or squeezed into a spot where it overlaps with other, more appropriate audio.

It’s a valiant effort to do a bad thing, but you have to appreciate the position the project was in at that point. Lionsgate had already dropped $50 million on the disastrous production and wasn’t about to throw good money after bad on reshoots, and nobody wants to publicly fire a director midway through production after the Solo: A Star Wars Story fiasco, so someone was always going to finish the project. I like the spunk of following through with this edit, even if it’s terrible.

The more usual Hellboi form.

This editing style, the consistent rushing of footage that wasn’t designed for it, is where most of Hellboy’s obvious problems come from. Most of the one-liners feel like the action was meant to grind to a halt for their delivery, but instead they’ve been dubbed over the middle of the action. Probably the clearest example are moments from the initial trailer, for which the music quite literally stops. Not so in the final cut.

The movie feels drunk. It feels like the filmed version of a drunk person telling you a story, and some aspects of it actually compliment that feeling. Harbour’s slurring, always-yelling Hellboi, for instance, is the perfect iteration of the character for this post-party frathouse of a movie.

Even outside of the production-born editing problems, Hellboy probably wouldn’t have delivered on its promise. The music is sparse – and always would have been, they wouldn’t have shelled out money for rights to songs and then not fit them in – and the gore is limp. Wounds bleed, but it’s more of a severe leak than anything spectacular. There’s never any hint of the absurdist splattergore that would have made it the kind of macabre fun it needs to be.

It’s not immediately apparent why this is a reboot instead of Hellboy 3.There’s not a lot of overlap in themes, as in this story Hellboi deals with death and his nature as a monster in ways that he didn’t in the previous two films. There’s no financial incentive, either, this isn’t a situation where the core audience was unhappy and wanted to see Hellboy switch creative hands. Speaking cynically, making a reboot gives Hellboy the chance to retread over some of the origin-story highlights from the initial 2004 adaptation, which it does for some reason. It’s almost as tacky is going over Uncle Ben’s death for the umpteenth time – in some ways even moreso, since the plotpoints that repeat in the two Hellboy movies are in the most climactic moments of both films.

The story is that previous series director Guillermo del Toro wanted to shoot his own script, but Hellboy creator Mike Mignola insisted on this blood queen story. Once del Toro was out, so was previous star Ron Perlman, and the project became a reboot by necessity and was deliberately taken in a more graphic direction. This was all before del Toro won big at the Oscars for The Shape of Water, but even then, producers and Mignola should have realized how much more popular a third del Toro movie would have been than this mash-up.

Additionally, Guillermo del Toro has a long history of not fucking off to another country in the middle of production to spend more time with his new girlfriend, so there’s that.

Hellboy is obviously and justly getting mauled by critics, but if you’re still into Marvel movies, I think this would be a perfectly enjoyable offering. A lot of its flaws – crappy special effects, difficult-to-follow action, poor editing, repetitive plot points, too much fan service – are flaws that comic book movie audiences have already mostly decided they’re OK with. If for no other reason, grabbing a ticket to a movie called Hellboy over Easter weekend sounds like a great time.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook,  follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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