The Hellboy remake can go straight to Boy. I tried harder writing that joke than the people who wrote this movie.
Hellboy (David Harbour) is a demon hunter who also is a demon or a half-demon or something like that. Whatever, he’s big, he’s red, and his right arm looks like it was pulled off of a different action figure and glued on. He works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, an organization that fights all the stuff that you traditionally find in those creepy German fairy tales preying on children: Ogres, giants, witches, Ted Nugent, etc. The BPRD is led by Hellboy’s adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian “C*cksucker” McShane), who found Hellboy after he was summoned by Nazis and Grigori Rasputin (Markos Routhwaite) back in 1945 and elected not to kill him despite the fact that Hellboy was summoned to bring about Ragnarok.
After killing a Mexican Vampire (Mario de la Rosa) who tells him the end is coming, Hellboy is sent to hunt giants with the Osiris Club, a bunch of rich English guys who have been doing this since knights were en vogue. They quickly stab Hellboy in the back and try to kill him to prevent the apocalypse and he falls into a river.
At the same time, a boar-man named Gruagach (Stephen Graham/Douglas Tait) beseeches the Baba Yaga (Troy James/Emma Tate), the Russian Witch, for a way to get revenge on Hellboy. We’re later told that this is because Hellboy stopped him from being able to switch places with a baby and be raised human. Baba Yaga tells him to find the pieces of the witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich) and put them together, which apparently isn’t hard because there are only like 7 pieces, instead of the hundreds that you’d think a body would end up in over 1500 f*cking years. Seriously, why do all these damned “separated body parts” stories keep the number so small rather than just having the caretakers go “oh hey, another year passed, let’s cut another piece off and throw it into a new mine shaft?” This is why Voldemort’s an idiot.
Whatever. Hellboy gets out of the river, because of f*cking course he does, only to find out that apparently there actually were giants that easily killed the giant hunters. Hellboy kills them in what is admittedly a pretty cool fight scene, but then the movie has to keep going by having him pass out as a young woman named Alice (Sasha Lane) arrives. She saves Hellboy, revealing that she’s a medium and also the baby Hellboy saved from Gruagach. The BPRD shows up to tell Hellboy that the last piece of Nimue is in the custody of the Osiris Club, who have now been massacred. It’s also revealed that Nimue wants Hellboy to kickstart the end of days, because that’s what they always want him to do in these movies. He’s joined by a werejaguar named Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who has secret orders from M11, the British BPRD, to kill Hellboy if he needs to.
Hellboy gets transported to Baba Yaga’s house, who hates Hellboy for taking her eye, offers to tell Hellboy Nimue’s location in exchange for one of his eyes. Hellboy cheats her, resulting in her cursing him, because we need an emotional thing later. The heroes head to the location and kill a bunch of witches, but Nimue’s back because movie’s gotta movie. She poisons Alice, but Hellboy goes and wakes up Merlin to cure her, who also offers Hellboy the way to Excalibur, because apparently he’s descended from King Arthur through his mother. Hellboy passes, however, despite it being the weapon that cut Nimue apart in the first place. Also, almost no version of the Arthurian myth has Arthur leave a surviving royal lineage, and the ones that do mostly say that the Pendragon line only produces male heirs, so I’m calling bullshit on this “descended from Arthur through his mother” crap.
Merlin the Plot Device dies and so do most of the supporting characters. The key characters fight Nimue in a church, like one does. Hellboy kills Gruagach and falls into a pit containing Excalibur, rendering Hellboy’s earlier decision pointless. He refuses to pull it out until Nimue kills Bruttenholm, completing Baba Yaga’s curse. Hellboy pulls the sword, which starts the apocalypse for some reason, until he kills Nimue, because cliche hero’s gotta cliche hero. Later, they find Abe Sapien, which is too little too late for this film.
Thank goodness the third season of Stranger Things came out, because I would hate for a movie like this to hurt David Harbour’s career. Actually, his portrayal of Hellboy was one of the only good things in the film. He conveys a lot more complex emotions than the dialogue allows, he looks great as Hellboy, he’s completely distinct from the version of Hellboy in the other films without feeling like a betrayal of the character, and also he feels like he’s actually giving the film effort. I love Ian McShane in general, but from his narration at the beginning of the movie, I thought he was phoning it in. Given the quality of dialogue he was reading I can’t quite blame him, but still, at least Harbour tried to make lemonade out of the pile of lemon-scented dung that they gave him to work with. Daniel Dae Kim, an actor I normally like, also seemed checked out, like he was upset that he was the second choice for the role after Ed Skrein backed out over the whitewashing of the character. I didn’t see American Honey, so I have no idea if this was above or below average for Sasha Lane. Milla Jovovich… well, she was Leeloo, she gets a pass from me. What kind of pass? If you can’t answer that, punch yourself in the head and go watch The Fifth Element.
The acting really isn’t the problem, compared to the story and the dialogue. The story feels like it was cobbled together from a bunch of different scripts precisely because it WAS exactly that. This movie adapts like three or four different plotlines from the Hellboy comics and that’s kind of a mistake out of the gate. Not only are those all fairly long plots to work in, they’re also from comics that occurred pretty far into Hellboy’s run, where the series didn’t have to worry about establishing characters or trying to quickly convey how they’d previously interacted. Even more, the film had to convey how the world you’re building is different than the only previous one we’d seen in the medium, and it’s quite a bit different from both the previous movie and the comic. A big difference is the presence of Hellboy on Earth. In the Guillermo del Toro films, Hellboy is a well-kept secret. In the comics, he’s the world’s most famous supernatural investigator. Here, he’s sort of in-between, not in hiding but also not publicly super recognized. So, basically, this film had to distinguish itself, establish a world, convey a complicated story, explain the history of the characters, and also kick-ass at the same time. That can be pulled off (like Into the Spider-Verse did), but it requires a great script and some efficient storytelling. This was not that script.
It’s difficult for me to pick exactly when I realized I was probably going to hate this film, but since it was during the flashback that opens the movie, I’d say it was about 25 seconds in when Ian McShane is throwing in some random “f*cks” to remind people what the rating is. However, I can absolutely say when I realized that I definitely was going to hate the film, and that’s when Hellboy delivered the line “if my face could talk it would disagree with you.” That line is so terrible and delivered with such unearned confidence in its quality that I just about vomited. Everything after that wasn’t much of an improvement, but my standards had hit “The Room without ironic pleasure” at that point, so I couldn’t care.
I also pretty much gave up hope of any redemption in how the plot was going to play out when the knights stab Hellboy in the back and ask him “we’ve been doing this for a thousand years, you didn’t really think we’d need your help, did you?” This is stupid on several levels. First, why didn’t Hellboy ask himself that, particularly given that they explain the history of the hunt before setting off? Second, it turns out that the giants are real and they quickly massacre the knights, so they DID need his help and they could have killed him after he helped them kill the giants. Third, their plan was to blame the giants for his disappearance so that Bruttenholm wouldn’t notice, but Hellboy kills all of them single-handedly while heavily wounded, so it seems like it would have been suspicious anyway. I’d say that hey might not know that he’s that strong, but they’ve been studying him for 60 years. Fourth, why even take him on a real hunt if you’re just going to kill him? You’re doing it to prevent the apocalypse, couldn’t you have thought of a ruse that would be more likely to kill him? Fifth, you decapitate giants, but you think you can drown a freaking demon? Lastly, this entire act pretty much ends up doing nothing, as it has almost no impact on the rest of the story, meaning it was pointless.
AND THAT’S MOST OF THE MOVIE. Something kind of easily preventable happens, Hellboy kind of deals with it, but then his decisions are rendered pointless by circumstances so that they can get to the next plot point.
This movie sucks. David Harbour is pretty good and some of the fights look neat, but everything else is poorly executed.
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