Directed by: Neil Marshall
Premise: Based on the comic book. A demon (David Harbour) is part of a government team that defends humanity against supernatural threats. An ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich) returns and threatens to unleash the apocalypse.
What Works: 2019’s Hellboy recasts the title role with David Harbour and he is a good match with the part. He has the physicality that the role requires but Harbour also gets the humor and the empathy. The point of Hellboy is that the character descends from evil but does good all while being discriminated against by the human society that he tries to save. That tension is evident throughout Harbour’s performance. Hellboy also has a few impressive visuals, especially the fight between the hero and a group of giants.
What Doesn’t: This is the second incarnation of Hellboy following Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 film and its sequel. The new film comes across as a compromise between a full-fledged reboot and a recast continuation of del Toro’s movies. Unlike 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, which did essentially the same thing but successfully, 2019’s Hellboy is clumsy and doesn’t properly reintroduce the character. The exposition is mishandled and viewers who aren’t familiar with the character will probably be lost throughout much of the film. But Hellboy fans aren’t well serviced by this film either. Unlike the various incarnations of Batman, which have an array of different styles and approaches to the character, the new version of Hellboy is fundamentally the same. This movie includes different villains and supporting characters but the visual style and the overall take on the character is fundamentally the same as the 2004 picture and it’s done less well. The characters of the new Hellboy lack depth or complexity and the moments that are supposed to be heartfelt or dramatic don’t provide much emotional impact. The narrative of Hellboy is all over the place. The characters and the audience are jerked around the globe and the plot is a disjointed series of events that don’t lead logically from one to the next. The most interesting ideas of Hellboy are bungled. At one point, the character argues that maybe witches and demons and other supernatural creatures wouldn’t be so hell-bent on destroying humanity if people weren’t determined to destroy them first. That’s an interesting idea that suggests moral ambiguity and gets to the heart of the character but the filmmakers don’t give it another thought and fall back into the same old simplistic battle between good and evil.
Bottom Line: The 2019 version of Hellboy is inferior to the 2004 film and it fails as a standalone picture. David Harbour does a good job in the title role and it’s too bad his talents are wasted in a movie that doesn’t know what it’s doing.
Episode: #746 (April 21, 2019)