It was only 15 years ago when Guillermo del Toro directed Ron Perlman in the first big-screen iteration of Hellboy. That was a film filled with imagination, joy and humour. Then 2008’s sequel Hellboy: The Golden Army delivered more of the same, this time with a little more action and a lot more confidence. Jump forward 15 years and instead of getting the film that would complete a much-loved trilogy, we have been given an uneven, largely humourless CGI-infused mess that does nothing for making the character appeal to a larger audience.
Strangely, for a role that became synonymous with one man, it’s odd how easily David Harbour (Stranger Things) fits into the role of Hellboy. Sure, he’s a little bigger and gruffer than Ron Perlman, but his version of big red is reassuringly similar while adding a modest amount of his own charm to the role. Likewise, Ian McShane (John Wick) takes over the role of Professor Broom and Hellboy’s adoptive father from the inimitable shoes of John Hurt. The two really form the heart of the film and despite a poor script and redundant story their father/son relationship is the solid foundation of an otherwise forgettable film.
In an attempt to set itself apart from its predecessors, the 2019 version of Hellboy has swapped heart and soul for swearing and gore. That is no bad thing either. Deadpool, for example is the perfect example of how to get the balance right between laughs, blood and total R-rated carnage. But, Hellboy doesn’t ever hit the right notes here and there is an overwhelming sense that there was more than a director and his crew working away at this film. Hellboy feels scruffy and has all the marks of a film that has been ripped from its directors’ hands, only for someone else to try and make a mark on it that fits with a studios vision.
There are undoubtedly some fun moments scattered throughout the films 121 duration. Most notably a showdown between Hellboy and three giants in the English countryside is entertaining and shows how exciting the film and the character could have been. Likewise, Hellboy’s constant bitterness and bickering with those close to him brings laughs and his bad-tempered attitude is all a part of the charm. The story, for what it’s worth is a convoluted mess which again stinks of a studio meddling with their directors’ affairs. At times it is too similar to what has come before, and as it bids to cover old ground the question can’t help but be asked of “what was the point?” Likewise, supporting characters are thinly drawn and severely lacking in originality while at the same time sporting some truly awful “English” accents.
There are moments where Hellboy is a perfectly fine film, and even though it may not be the film fans had craved, it is not always a complete waste of time either. It just never feels like it has accomplished anything of value. When Marvel are continually churning out great superhero films, DC & Warner Bros. are making steadily better material and Sony are consistently bi-polar in their efforts, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Sadly, Hellboy is not that film and will soon be forgotten as just another comic-book film.
Hellboy is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download