The latest iteration of Hellboy, featuring director Neil Marshall taking over for Guillermo Del Toro (who I suspect at this point does whatever film he wants to do) and David Harbour taking over for Ron Perlman in the lead role, had me interested in its first few minutes.
Understand, I’m a pretty big fan of the Mike Mignola Hellboy comics. Further, I felt once Harbour showed up as Hellboy he did a pretty good job with the character, though I would note rather quickly that he seemed to be following in Perlman’s footsteps.
Still, he was pretty good.
I’ll get to the movie in a moment but first, here’s the Red Band trailer for Hellboy…
Anyway, we start in the past, with witches being put down, including the head witch Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich). Then we’re up to the “present” and introduced to Hellboy, who is in Mexico seeking out a fellow agent in the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the organization that goes after evil creatures and which Hellboy belongs to, at least in the early going of the comic books). He finds the agent in a “lucha” ring, ie a wrestling arena, and all hell breaks loose.
So far, so good.
Two words: Information dump.
In many ways this new Hellboy feature reminded me of Ryan Reynold’s favorite movie role punching bag: the 2011 film Green Lantern.
Well, because both films were overfilled with references to so many different characters and stories and individual comic books that it became something of a mess.
Both Green Lantern and Hellboy were betrayed by scripts that couldn’t focus and hit us with so much …stuff… that after a while one begs for simplicity and clarity and focus, which are simply not to be found.
As I mentioned, we have the Blood Queen. We then go to the Mexican luchador sequence (and vampires), then we side step to the Wild Hunt, then Baba Yaga and her bizarre house, then… ugh.
I mean, I could understand many of the references because I’m familiar with the books they’re based on, but could you imagine a James Bond film gets released and it features Bond first going up against Dr. No, then Blofeld, then Pussy Galore shows up, then Bond finds the love of his life and marries her only to have her killed, then he goes up into space to thwart a megalomaniac trying to poison humanity and comes down to a Voodoo plantation to deal with drug runners and in the meantime avoids an assassin with a Golden Gun…
I mean, if you’re a James Bond fan you know what I’m referencing, but if all those elements were pushed together in one film, the ultimate results would have been an overload and that’s what’s happened here.
I suppose one also has to acknowledge the fact that there are many -myself not included, alas, and you can read more about that below- who love the two Guillermo Del Toro directed Hellboy films and had a tough time with him leaving that franchise.
Add to that some strange/wild behind the scenes stories regarding director Neil Marshall (you can read about that here and here), and even some pointed statements by David Harbour about the film’s reception and production (there are rumors he didn’t get along with director Neil Marshall and the film had some 16 producers through its making and further rumors are that they did not agree often. You can read about that here) and you have issues.
It just seemed like too many things were going against the work to begin with. Too much ambition in showing all these interesting comic book elements when they didn’t need to. Too many “cooks in the kitchen”, so to speak, and a script that needed paring down rather than being so overstuffed.
Yet the film looks pretty sharp, I must say, and the action is good. Still, the film winds up being like Green Lantern, an overstuffed work that ultimately just isn’t all that good.
POSTSCRIPT: Regarding the two Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy films: I can’t say I’m a huge fan of those two films either, though I would say of the three Hellboy features, they are better than the most recent.
While they both looked terrific and boasted incredible special effects, the first film felt a little underwhelming to me, fizzling toward its end. The second, I felt, was like this new Hellboy in that there was too much going on and it felt like there were climaxes after climaxes to the point where I was exhausted.
All this, of course, is IMHO!