While one might expect a single-word description of how they feel coming out of something called Hellboy to be along the lines of "bewildered" or "curious" or even "confused" what it actually feels like coming out of Neil "The Descent" Marshall's 2019 re-boot of the Hellboy comic character is "numb". There is so much happening in this desperate (zero-sense making) attempt to bring Mike Mignola's comic back to the big screen in hopes of launching another new franchise that it doesn't seem anyone involved stopped long enough to actually consider what that franchise might need to look like given the context of its existence. Instead, screenwriter Andrew Crosby is throwing as many characters, subplots, flashbacks, and countless other things at the audience at once that it's overwhelming to the point of feeling nothing. That is to say, this new Hellboy fits squarely into the cliché of "everything and nothing all at once". If one were to describe Hellboy and everything the film contains it would be almost ignorant to think that what was about to come your way couldn't potentially be one of the greatest albeit most ridiculous things ever concocted while in reality it turns out to be nothing short of the definition of incoherent. And despite so much going on, nothing lands, nothing to make you-the viewer-care about anything or anyone on screen. Yes, there is technically a narrative here, but this is mostly just an excuse to exercise some cool practical make-up and prosthetic techniques as strung together through blandly executed action sequences (except for the final, epilogue scene-where is that full version of Hellboy at?!?!). It’s not all bad as David Harbour (Stranger Things), taking over for the much-loved Ron Pearlman who previously dawned the sawed-off demon horns in Guillermo del Toro’s two original films, is seemingly having a lot of fun and making the most out of having the opportunity to play the character, but his vigor isn’t near enough to justify sitting through an extended two-hour runtime for a movie that could have been streamlined into ninety-minutes of pure, horror/action schlock. This version of the comic is what it seemed Marshall wanted to make given he was granted an R-rating, but even the leaning into of the restricted rating is wasted on an excess of blood rather than being capitalized on with more creatively gruesome endeavors.

Hellboy (David Harbour) joins the Osiris Club's Wild Hunt of three giants.
Photo by Mark Rogers
The performances are, in general, fine across the board even if some (most) of the players are underutilized. Even further, some of the character and set design work on display here is beyond appealing as the attention to detail is magnificent with it being near impossible to not see that a genuine effort has been put into building this world and building these characters lending the movie this sense of gnarly graphicness that is appealing when it peaks through the indulgences Marshall decides to for here more often than not. The film also has a light-hearted element to it in that for much of the time Harbour and his castmates are winking at the camera while spilling gallons of blood, but where the movie runs into trouble is in trying to balance these tones of trying to be both a gross out horror flick with that of being a knowing comic book action movie. Neither of these are accomplished to the effect that either approach leaves an impression though with the action being so disjointed from the main narrative it hardly serves to do anything beyond filling the mandatory action quota while doing little to nothing to push the story further in the midst of these battles as there's no investment in the stakes of what we're seeing unfold. In terms of the character of Hellboy actually scaring anyone (I mean, I know he's our hero, but he's also a demon raised from hell) there is simply no stress induced by his presence and no anxiety brought forth by certain decisions he might make that would cause audiences to squirm in their seats. This is the same throughout the movie as a whole as well as there are plenty of individual scenarios that could have easily involved the kinds of stakes and tension the action set pieces are so vividly missing, but given we don't actually care about any of the characters or circumstances that are on the line-there is nothing to invest ourselves in. Never does the audience find themselves in the comfort zone between the two genres or tones. The soundtrack is also utilized here in such an overbearing way that the lyrics may as well be explicitly telling the audience what is happening on screen, what they should be paying attention to, and what they should be feeling at any given moment. The music as well as the comedy are used to undercut the more serious and potentially more scary moments to the point it becomes a recognizable pattern that is not just stale, but frustrating because it's so easy to see what this could have been were the film overall to have been more focused and the direction more centered. 

A lot of this doesn't seem to add up though as Marshall is known for being an expert in crafting tension and horror as he's previously directed cult favorite The Descent as well as 2002's Dog Soldiers (which is apparently a fun genre exercise though I personally can't attest to its quality) along with having worked in a lot of illustrious television productions such as Game of Thrones and Lost in Space. And so, there are certainly moments of visual grandeur that offer a glimpse at what this version of Hellboy could have been especially with Harbour's performance as the actor really is playing up the cheeky tone of the character and playing up the fact he uses his jokes and sarcasm as more of a defense mechanism than it as simply an aspect of his personality or implicit nature, but where the problems really stem from are that of the screenplay as there is no driving force to the narrative because it is so sprawling and because all of the strands influencing the movie are so disparate. This comes back around to that statement concerning coherence and what a shame it is that Marshall couldn't either co-write or re-write a draft to better fit his vision as the initial set-up of Milla Jovovich's Blood Queen and her plot to take back the world and destroy the human race is by-the-numbers comic book stuff, but the way in which Marshall sets this stuff up and conveys the initial premise is done well enough to attract ones interest in how this might loop back around and play into our hero's life. Unfortunately, this version of this Hellboy movie never takes advantage of this set-up in any kind of engaging manner and instead goes off the deep end by introducing new characters, dumping exposition around their backstories, and then delivering flashbacks around many of those same backstories. Just to put an emphasis on how much exposition and flashback this movie contains the full opening sequence of the film is told to us again (almost verbatim) through Daniel Dae Kim's character about an hour into the film seemingly just in case someone might have missed a detail in Ian McShane's narration at the top of the film. The point being that there is very little structure to this world of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, but while it would seem obvious to say that structure is a key element in any kind of good storytelling, even storytelling that lives in and hopes to elicit chaos-it would seem Mr. Cosby disagrees.

Hellboy and Alice (Sasha Lane), a medium, decide to join forces to defeat the Blood Queen in 2019's Hellboy.
Photo by Mark Rogers
Beyond these issues with story structure, story strands, and superfluous character arcs, there is also no grasping at a single theme, meaning, or the idea that the film might saying anything beyond recounting the familiar beats the handful of familiar plots crammed into this single film try to accomplish. As strange as it may sound though, Harbour does bring some internal conflict to the role after his relationship with Jovovich's character is developed slightly as we get the sense there is a hesitation in risking is own well-being to save these people who are afraid of him and who insult him and are too scared to accept him. Why keep their humanity and existence intact? This could be just as interesting as the father/son dynamic between Hellboy and his father, McShane's Professor Broom, given there is a level of not necessarily mistrust, but definitely of uncertainty in why his father figure might be doing for him what he's doing and why he would choose to serve in this role as a father despite everything else in his life pointing towards the fact that this is not the man he is. There are opportunities for depth that naturally develop in the characters, but despite this potential Hellboy largely leaves these boxes unchecked until reaching the climactic third act when it all of a sudden hopes to capitalize on them by utilizing said conflicts-specifically the father/son element-as something of an emotional gut punch. Given the movie has taken these elements and potential themes nowhere as well as for granted up until this point it is no surprise that when it finally tries to return to them and draw out some emotional connection or inherent sympathy there is nothing left to feel other than that aforementioned "numbness". This truly is a shame, but more it is emblematic of the trouble with the movie as a whole as it begins so many things and sets so many elements in motion that it never follows through on if it even remembers most of them exist. This type of free-wheeling approach to story and character never yields anything satisfying or stimulating to the extent most casual moviegoers likely won't be fulfilled even in the most basic requirement of leaving the theater entertained. Hellboy is a movie that exists, for sure, but it is a movie that barely does anything else outside of these basic requirements to elevate itself above being anything more than a movie that, well...exists. All of this to say the experience isn't necessarily hell on earth, but to put it mildly...we're a long way from walking on water.

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