Spoilers: the new version of "Hellboy" (out April 12) starring David Harbour ("Stranger Things") and directed by Neil Marshall ("The Descent") is getting some harsh reviews. Is any of it redeemable? Is it getting the cold shoulder merely because Guillermo del Toro's previous film versions were so beloved? Or is it really, truly 2015 "Fantastic Four" reboot-level bad? Here's what critics think:
You Get Your Reboot Reintroduction To Who Hellboy Is, Along With World-Ending Stakes For Him To Face
He's still the moody devil with the smart mouth, born of a Nazi experiment involving the occult and now part of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a.k.a. the B.P.R.D.[…] once again, he has to save the world from an oncoming apocalypse, involving an ancient sorceress named Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich)
She wants Hellboy to be her king, and manages to get far enough into his head that he questions his loyalty to his adoptive father Professor Broom (Ian McShane) and the Bureau Of Paranormal Research And Defense in general. But first, Hellboy has to fight vampires, giants, witches, and, most terrifying of all, duplicitous one-percent types.
The Action Is Extremely Gory…
The over-the-top action and blood-spattered creature carnage is directed by Neil Marshall, best known for horror and action movies like The Descent and Doomsday — not to mention orchestrating two major Game of Thrones battles. Subtlety is not the man's strong point, and he's cranking this new version of Hellboy up to 11.
Scenes of Hellboy fighting ogrish CGI giants should be boring but they aren't, thanks to the artists involved treating every image as a new opportunity to thumb us in the eye. Every demon death is extremely gross and graphic.
… But Also Extremely Hard To Follow
The fight scenes are poorly shot, leaning heavily on CGI characters slugging it out in dark environments. And then there's the gore; blood that sprays, living human heads peeled like grapes, demons grabbing a man by both legs and pulling until he erupts in a fountain of viscera.
Because the story doesn't imagine that demons trying to wipe humanity out as scary enough, the film ladles on excessive amounts of gratuitous bloodshed that, after a while, fail to get your heart rate up. There are only so many times you can be horrified to see someone being torn in two before you get bored and start thinking about what all that fake blood might smell like.
True To The Comics And Marshall's Horror Roots, Some Of The Gross-Out Stuff Is Undeniably Striking
I enjoyed its delirious cavalcade of what-if monster mash-ups. There are child-stealing fairies and foulmouthed Scottish boar-demons and giant pock-marked frog warriors, and at one point Sasha Lane vomits out a naked, serpentine Ian McShane.
Marshall's horror pedigree also results in some very cool, repulsive-in-a-good-way creature design—particularly in the scenes featuring Baba Yaga, an ancient one-eyed witch who can contort herself into a spider walk a lá The Exorcist.
And David Harbour's Take On Hellboy Shows Great Promise…
His take on Red is a little chunkier, a little hairier, a slightly darker hue of red, his horns slightly more roughly filed. He is a touch taller than [Ron] Perlman, and just as gravelly voiced — but crucially he gets the stoic, hard-drinkin', no-fussin' everyman nuances of the character, undercutting the high fantasy surrounding him with a well-placed grimace.
A big part of Hellboy's charm is that under his invulnerable hide he hides a vulnerable heart, and Harbour transmits melancholy and anger through the layers of red makeup. Wisecracking at times and wounded at others, this huge red demon is surprisingly soulful, sympathetic and even charming.
… But He's Not Always Given A Chance To Shine Through The Excellent Makeup And Not-So-Excellent Dialogue
He is more of a Heckboy: a banal action-movie figure without the unexpected likability of his previous iteration.
He's also stuck with far too many groaners, including one truly terrible pun toward the end that had me saying: "Oh no, no no no," out loud to the screen.
The Supporting Cast Is On Autopilot (With Distractingly Bad British Accents, In At Least One Case)
As Hellboy's adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm, McShane has the chops and presence to step into John Hurt's shoes but you sense at this stage he can do these tough-talking father figures in his sleep. Elsewhere, we encounter some alarmingly bad English accents, of the kind to make Dick Van Dyke blush
[Hellboy's] only friend is Alice (played by the divine Sasha Lane from American Honey), a spirit medium Hellboy saved from an evil fairy when she was a baby. They're partnered with a British paranormalist paramilitary played by Daniel Dae Kim, whose fake British accent is much worse than Lane's (in a movie where Hellboy is summoned from hell by Rasputin during World War II, would giving these two their natural accents really have been that much of a stretch?).
Still, Milla Jovovich Makes The Most Of Her Baddie Role
McShane glides by on how much everyone loves it when he says the word "fuck," leaving Jovovich to give the most committed, and therefore the best, performance in the film.
As Nimue, Jovovich is at her very most Jovovich—grinding chewed-up scenery she's long since spat out beneath the heel of her foot with the ease of someone who's familiar with being dropped into the midst of spectacular, cinematic train wrecks.
At Best, The Movie Kinda Works As An Over-The-Top Response To The Film Versions That Came Before It…
Perhaps the best defense that can be mustered in support of Marshall's "Hellboy" is that the director's affection for the material is no less real or exuberant than Del Toro's; it's just a lot more crudely, monotonously expressed. The movie seems to spring from a curious awareness of how unnecessary it is, and it responds in the manner of an uninvited guest, with no interest in behaving or ingratiating itself.
Exuberantly gross and proudly ridiculous, this Hellboy feels like the picture Glenn Danzig sees in his head when he doodles in his notebook.
If you like gore, and monsters, and tuning out for a few hours, Hellboy might even be the movie for you. But overall, its faults strongly outweigh its virtues.
… But At Worst, It's Clearly A Mess
In a word, Hellboy is unpleasant. Other appropriate adjectives to describe this reboot include dreadful, obnoxious, unnecessary, and interminable.
Neil Marshall's Hellboy reboot is a textbook example of the kind of film where, as you're watching it in theaters, you can still pick up on the echoes of what it was or might have been earlier in the production process—perhaps when the studio was still considering who should helm the project, or which actors would be best to bring the characters to life. Sometimes, this can work in a movie's favor. More often than not, though, it's a major distraction that draws attention away from the story being told, and makes you begin to look for other cracks in the film's narrative substance.
Neil Marshall turns all the dials to 11 and keeps them there. This aural and visual assault poses the question: Exactly how much stimulation do studios think audiences need?
The Humor, Wedged-In Or Not, Lands Infrequently
Having Hellboy crack wise constantly is all well and good; better to have a sense of humor than go dark. But it's hard to remember a film that is so consistently, aggressively unfunny as this Hellboy. (The film's painfully bad jokes are all the more jaw-dropping because many of them clearly were done in the post-production process of ADR, and these are the best jokes they could come up with.)
The editing is a haphazard mess, but the plot feels like such a hack job from what must have been an unreasonably longer cut that I can't really fault the effort to bring this down to size. It certainly doesn't help, though, that there are some very obvious post-production additions in the works here, from jokes added in ADR that land with a resounding thud to metal riff soundtrack choices that desperately want you to think this is the next Guardians of the Galaxy. I can assure you that it is not.
It's Just A Lot — Too Much For Most Viewers To See Good In
"Hellboy" stops being fun when it stops being funny—when it abruptly shifts gears into a more relentlessly bloody, violent mood. And eventually, the film reaches a point of extreme, overindulgent insanity.
It's inert where it should be fast, and cluttered and choppy where it should be rousing. Which is a shame, because Hellboy, as conceived, is one of the more interesting comic book heroes we have. He deserves better than this.
Hellboy is some very ill-advised cinema, and those who enjoy the prospect of cinematic trainwrecks are likely to get some joy out of this.