Hellboy (2019) review

The latest in the awful trend of reboots with the same title as the original, Hellboy stars Stranger Things’ David Harbour as the titular demon in a new continuity, ignoring Guillermo Del Toro’s semi successful duology from the early naughties. This incarnation boasts all of the subtly of a school nativity, with all the edginess of a teen’s first goth phase.

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The most major of Hellboy’s copious issues, is its writing. The film revels in dropping f bombs at every feasible moment. This, combined with its laughable obsession with absurd levels of gore, and the screenplay ends up feeling like it was written by a fourteen year old, who thinks he’s well hard. Those who felt that Del Toro’s films were too ‘PG 13’ will be thrilled to see the R rating pushed to the absolute limit here. Jaws are smashed, faces are melted, and bodies are ripped in half at least every five minutes. The result is an angry interpretation that fails to achieve any kind of meaningful arc or narrative structure, buckling under the weight of its own insane premise.

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Hellboy has always been a bizarre concept, and the prior film interpretation always gave a knowing wink to the audience, recognising its ridiculousness. This reboot however demands the acceptance of a plot involving (big breath) King Arthur, Nazis, Rasputin, Merlin, the gates of hell, three secret societies, a cheetah man, and a horde of demons attacking St. Pauls. Very few of these threads are allowed to breathe and develop, and there’s a vibe that the writers simply threw everything at the wall, hoping that something would stick. Worse still, the dreadful narrative is matched only by the appalling special effects. Gone are the charmingly effective Pans Labyrinth style practical creatures. Say hello to hideously generic blobs of computer generated brown and crimson, that often resemble an early Playstation 3 game.

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The performances also fail to redeem the incoherence. Harbour is genuinely great, giving the expected smart allelic smirk, in addition to a toughness that Ron Perlman lacked. It’s thus cringe inducing when he delivers one of the many dreadfully unfunny jokes. The rest of the cast, are universally awful. Sasha Lane is the absolute worst, delivering perhaps the most wooden and generic performance this year. Daniel Dae Kim provides only a slightly more believable British accent. Ian McShane is under the impression he’s acting in a pantomime, with his delivery of the embarrassing dialogue being beyond phoned in.

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Are there any redeemable elements of Hellboy? Well, the soundtrack is actually pretty banging, and fits the angry, violent aesthetic. Hits from hard rock greats like Alice Cooper and The Scorpions are effective, but beg to be in a better movie. Besides that and Harbour’s performance, Hellboy is an absolute train wreck. It aspires to emulate the visuals of a Meatloaf album, and the tongue in cheek, violent tone of a Tarantino film, but ultimately presents a juvenile mess, that does nothing but waste two painfully long hours of your life.

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