It's not so much that there's a decent enough flick lying somewhere beneath the trash heap that is Hellboy, but it's nearly impossible to not envision the potential for a better film that exists somewhere within director Neil Marshall's muddled, at times unwatchable reboot of a film that hasn't really been gone long enough to have truly warranted such a reboot.
However, there actually is something about Hellboy that's undeniable compelling and makes the fact that it's so unfathomably disappointing that you can't help but contemplate what might've been.
Marshall has crafted a visually arresting film, a gruesome and foul wannabe masterpiece that would be an absolute joy to watch if we weren't forced to also listen to the dialogue along the way. There's somethin gloriously hideous about the spidery skittishness of the Baba Yaga, whose presence is by far the most interesting thing in the film and whom you can't help but be enthralled with each time its rotting, stenchy faces comes across the screen. It's truly disgusting, yet gloriously so and they are nearly matched by Hellboy's graphic, consummately detailed fight sequences that, rather sadly, make up only a small portion of the film and not nearly enough to salvage the film anything resembling a decent rating.
Hellboy is one of those superhero films that features an anti-hero, a tainted and damaged soul whose entire battle is essentially to allow his essential goodness ot overwhelm his darkest of shadows. It's a story arc we've seen before, Suicide Squad being an example, and we've definitely seen it done much better.
Hellboy ultimately fails for a variety of reasons from Andrew Cosby's paint-by-numbers, repetitive dialogue and sequences to a performance by Stranger Things' David Harbour as Hellboy. A gifted actor who should have been perfect for the role, Harbour's either unable to adapt his vocal stylings to his caked on make-up or he's been woefully directed to turn Hellboy into some sort of emo mumblecore behemoth.
Either way, it doesn't work.
Hellboy kicks off with an Ian McShane voiceover, one of far too many voiceovers in the film serving to provide mass exposition in the quickest way possible. We learn about Milla Jovovich's Blood Queen Nimue, the sort of wicked queen you expect in this kind of film and, indeed, she's a rather wicked woman who wants to unleash an earth-destroying plague but whose mission is interrupted by the likes of King Arthur, Merlin, and the non-descript Ganeida. Eventually, as one might expect from a film called Hellboy, Hellboy eventually comes onto the scene and we spend the rest of the film cruising through more roundabouts than on a Sunday afternoon in Carmel, Indiana.
I know. I know. You're not from Carmel. Trust me, even the roundabouts have roundabouts. I think the roundabouts have sex with the roundabouts and then give birth to baby roundabouts.
Anyway, there's a lot of false detours in Hellboy.
Along the way, this leads to everything from Nazis to secret societies to necromancy to that aforementioned Baba Yaga to Sasha Lane's woefully wasted Alice, whose purpose in existence I still haven't quite figured out.
While the voiceovers are mind-numblingly heavy in dialogue, the rest of Hellboy is more quips and asocial banter rather than anything substantial. It's difficult to really tell if anyone's actually giving a decent performance here. They're so completely hindered by inadequate dialogue, or in Harbour's case makeup and prosthetics, that there's nary an authentic emotion to be found anywhere.
For some, Hellboy may very well be good enough. It's occasionally quite visually appealing and has a stronger sense of darkness that works well with the character, yet virtually every other aspect of the film falls short and this completely unnecessary reboot ends up being nothing short of a hellish cinematic experience and, at two hours in length, insufferably long to boot.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic