Milla Jovovich stars as The Blood Queen, a sorceress so powerful and despicable, she’s dispatched by being cut up into pieces and buried. However, this doesn’t stop her from returning and continuing her plans to destroy all of mankind. The only one who can stand up to her is Hellboy (played by David Harbour), a devil/human hybrid who fights the forces of evil for an underground organization.
Neil Marshall’s take on Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Comics character isn’t the disaster you might have heard but, at best, is a middle of the road comic book movie. In a season where “Captain Marvel,” “Shazam!” and the forthcoming “Avengers: Endgame” dominate the genre, the best Marshall can come up with is the kind of visually bland, special effects-heavy time killer that will be forgotten by most before summer is out.
While the R-rating means the gore and profanity quotient are maximized, the previous “Hellboy” movies presented this world and is characters in a much sharper way. Here, the secret societies and battles portrayed come off like low budget replays from “Men in Black” and “The Mummy.”
Marshall is doing his own thing here, though the comparisons to the two prior, Guillermo Del Toro “Hellboy” entries do this no favors. Whereas Del Toro made all his monsters appear vivid and oddly sensual, we get a lot of obvious CGI here and much of it is spotty. The controlled, whimsical tone and tactile atmosphere of Del Toro is replaced by Marshall’s dour, overcast lighting (very Zac Snyder-y), creaky-looking sets and too many scenes that pass by forgotten throughout a very long two-hour running time. Perhaps the biggest thing missing here is real laughs, as the one-liners are pretty bad and little of this is truly funny.
It picks up steam in the late-going, particularly a surreal encounter with the grotesque Baba Yaga. The sight of Hellboy with his horns fully grown and a fiery crown hovering above his head is so striking, the movie could have used more of it. I enjoyed the bit where a vile creature is extracted from someone’s head and scatters away, to which someone casually asks, “Should be worried about where that’s going?”
Although his vocals are inconsistent, Harbour’s performance is the strongest in the film. If Ron Pearlman inevitably owns the role, Harbour is at least respectable; if he fails to break any new ground, it should still be stated that he’s the best thing here and carries the movie. Unfortunately, none of his co-stars measure up or have any chemistry with one another. Playing Hellboy’s father is Ian McShane, whose sole character trait is not reacting to any of the crazy monsters or outrageous incidents occurring around him. Jovovich gives the villainess her best shot but the role is beneath her. The cleverly assembled ensemble cast of Del Toro’s film is missed; I never thought I’d say this but I missed Sela Blair.
The final scenes follow the Marvel pattern of appearing pre/mid/post-final credits, setting up sequels I don’t care about. To be unkind but direct in my thoughts on Marshall- this series needs a filmmaker with a strong vision and Marshall isn’t it. Handing this eclectic franchise over to the director whose most famous movies involves people stuck in a hole wasn’t the best choice (my apologies to fans of “The Descent”).
Overall, “Hellboy” reminded me of another recent franchise re-igniter from the same studio- the “Tomb Raider” reboot from last year. Both are fairly well done but lack distinction. For all the promising things here, it’s not enough.
–originally published in Maui Time Weekly