Geek Review: Hellboy (2019)

Is it safe to dub the past decade as the Golden Age of Reboots? Soft or hard, there have been Tomb Raider, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, IT, Star Trek, Bumblebee, Dredd, and now, Hellboy.

Not all have been golden of course, as not all reboots that exist today have met fan expectations, although many have stood out from the rest by not only reimagining the IP for a new generation of fans, but introducing new and fresh ways for older ones to enjoy it as if they were watching it for the very first time.

2019’s Hellboy comes in from a very unique perspective – the first two live-action adaptations (2004 and 2008) of the Mike Mignola Dark Horse comics series, directed by auteur Guillermo del Toro, didn’t make a lot of money, hence the lack of a trilogy, but they were beloved.

Directed by Neil Marshall, of TV’s Game of Thrones fame, this reboot of the film franchise is nothing short of a wild ride to hell. It’s natural to compare Marshall’s rendition of Hellboy to that of del Toro’s, but this outing has a smaller budget, and tries to pack several stories into one movie.

Hellboy is set in the 21st century, where the titular character is summoned by his parent organisation, the Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense (BPRD), to investigate and prevent an ancient evil, Nimue, the Blood Queen, from decimating the living world with blood and darkness. Armed with his oversized revolver and iconic Right Hand of Doom, the half-human, half-demon Hellboy sets out to stop this madness, doing battle with giants thrice his size, other demons and – wait for it – stranger things.

Speaking of which, David Harbour from Stranger Things takes on the horns, hooves, and Right Hand of Doom this time as Hellboy. Sorry, no Ron Perlman here, but Harbour makes a solid like-for-like replacement. He is witty and charismatic, not to mention cynical and crass, owning his scenes whenever he’s on.

For the most part, at least. Harbour tends to slur quite a lot, which is rather immersion-breaking because you’ll be hard-pressed to understand what he’s trying to say, especially without subtitles. This can be quite frustrating, especially since Hellboy’s scenes make up three-quarters of the movie. You can’t expect to feel emotionally connected to a character struggling to balance his humanity and demonic nature when he is speaking as if his jaw has frozen up half the time. Moreover, he utters lines that are supposedly intended to make audiences laugh, but they fall flat quite a lot.

That said, it may be more of a problem with the writing (more on that later). It is a shame and a waste, considering how much effort was put into his makeup and costume design, because he does look terrifyingly good.

Hellboy’s opposite number is Nimue the Blood Queen, portrayed by Resident Evil star Milla Jovovich. Nimue is an all-powerful creature of evil, capable of snuffing the life out of anyone by merely moving her hands. She is also capable of rallying hordes of demons and monsters to do her bidding. We believe Nimue the Blood Queen can do all those things, but, sadly, those shoes may be a little too big for Jovovich to fill.

She has to resort to guttural shouting in an attempt to sound more menacing, as if simply being stern and cold doesn’t do it well enough. Furthermore, she is mostly static in her scenes, which often makes her more of a talking head (pun intended). For the main antagonist, she doesn’t really feel like one, which (again) alludes to the writing of the script.

Hellboy is famous for its unique worldbuilding and plot, but Neil Marshall’s rendition attempts to pack a little too much plot into one sitting. In the two-hour journey, you witness a mish-mash of an action flick packed with horror jump-scares, multiple journeys to find different MacGuffins, and peppered with father-son drama. Not to mention a whiff of slapstick comedy and a dash of exposition about past happenings that we’re supposed to understand by simple word of mouth. There are easily four storylines from the comics that have been crammed into this movie, and that naturally leads to a very disjointed overall plot that can be rather hard to follow.

As such, the tone is all over the place, which leaves you rather confused as to what to feel at the end of the movie. And speaking of tone, the awkward dialogue doesn’t help either. It’s awkward because some lines are inserted to supposedly inject laughter, but they backfire and leave you scratching your head half the time. The juxtaposition of serious ghostly apparitions revealing their plight to the potty-mouthed Hellboy is also rather jarring, and will serve more to frustrate rather than entertain. There’s a tasteful way to do all this (see: Deadpool), and Hellboy’s writing, unfortunately, doesn’t cut it.

The visuals offered by Marshall’s Hellboy are also hit-or-miss. Marshall’s monsters and supernatural baddies look great; he’s opted for a more gritty and murky look which suits the more grounded look of his film. The monsters are gorgeously grotesque, with erratic and feral movements that really make you feel disgusted when watching them, in a good way. The production design is dank, dark, and dingy, which really lifts the atmosphere to more believable levels. It’s a wild departure from the fantastical and whimsical style of the del Toro movies, which is refreshing. It’s a shame that this is the best part of the movie.

That said, the effects department could use a little work, too. The CGI works best with David Harbour, who looks hella good, especially when he gets his full demonic mojo on, flaming sword and all. However, it seems that the team spent most of their money on making Hellboy look his hellish best, forgetting that the other parts of the show needed to look good as well.

As much as we want to forgive the team for having a small budget, we also can’t help but talk about it as well. Alice Monaghan’s (Sasha Lane) seances exemplify this, with the spirit projections manifesting as what look like extensions of her innards. They’re supposed to look great on paper, but somehow they feel rather robotic and out of place.

Some CGI fight scenes do feel artificial, especially for one scene in particular. Squint hard enough, and you’ll feel like you can even see the green screen from behind the actors. Coupled with some jarring jump cuts, you’ll constantly be hard-pressed to play catch-up with the camera. More often than not, you’ll be lost in translation as you try to follow the action.

On a lighter note, Hellboy’s soundtrack is rather enjoyable. From the melodic riffs of Muse to the sex-fuelled belts of Motley Crue, you’ll be treated to some adrenaline-pumping tracks while Hellboy rips a new one in his enemies with the Right Hand of Doom.

Overall, the Hellboy reboot is a mixed bag. Marshall succeeds in building a coherent enough story, sans various logic errors and whatnot, but the movie falls flat on nearly every other aspect, which does spark some cause for concern.

Based on the two end credits scenes, we’re to expect a potential sequel or sequels to come out of this new Hellboy. For that to happen, a lot of work needs to be done from the ground-up. For now, Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman are still the definitive live-action Hellboy.



Neil Marshall’s Hellboy tries a little too hard in trying to appeal to both first-time audiences and veterans of the franchise, and ultimately devolves into a hellish mess.

  • Story - 5.5/10
  • Direction - 7.5/10
  • Characterisation - 6/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 7/10
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