Hellboy (2019) is notably the movie Ed Skrein got the best notices of his entire career for – and he’s not actually in it. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be the only good reviews this botched, bad-faith reboot is likely to get.
During the Arthurian age, Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) is betrayed just as she prepares to wipe out humanity with a plague. Dismembering her with Excalibur, Arthur has her body parts scattered across the land to prevent her resurrection. In the present day, Hellboy (David Harbour) is recalled from a mission in Mexico because the mysterious Osiris Club require his assistance to hunt down three giants terrorising the New Forest. But dark forces are on the move in Britain and somebody seeks to revive the Blood Queen herself.
The opening narration, from Ian McShane’s Trevor Bruttenholm, very quickly features the gratuitous swearing by which this interpretation of “Hellboy” seeks to prove its credentials. It’s this and a liberal approach to gore that “Hellboy” offers up as compensation for the significant drop in visual flair and the quality of the writing. It’s an admittedly interesting choice to spend so much time retelling Hellboy’s origin – is anyone really coming to see this having not seen either the previous two movies or read the original comics? There’s an awkward self-consciousness permeating the whole movie, manifesting is some decidedly wooden line readings and far too much forced humour which just doesn’t land. The screen is littered with far too many explanatory captions, especially early on where they very nearly trip over one and other and the overall sloppiness of the filmmaking comes across as cheap and lazy, especially around Hellboy’s own make-up which at times looks conspicuously loose and badly fitted. Harbour makes a decent fist of the character, though, but lacks some of Perlman’s gravitas. Jovovich makes for a sinister opponent although she’s somewhat restricted to making grandiose speeches and brandishing variable quality special effects. Every interaction, action sequence or scene change is accompanied by an insistent, over-eager, amped-up soundtrack, designed to shift CDs and, probably, to distract you from the mundane colour palate onscreen.
Neil Marshall’s filmmaking sensibilities seem irretrievably rooted in a turn of the millennium aesthetic which in turn makes this look like the drabbest and most dated of the “Hellboy” movies so far. Without the depth and texture of the dark folkloric ambience of the previous two, this feels like a generic straight to dvd demonic monster movie. There’s such a grab bag of accents on show that while it may add domestic diversity for British audiences, it sometimes makes it feel like none of the characters are aware they’re in the same move. It still has its moments, such as a very Ghibli-esque visit with Baba Yaga, but it’s all too messy and slapdash and prone to indulging in grotesque goriness for no real narrative purpose – such as a thirty second sequence of demons stalking London street – and ultimately the whole movie ends up somewhere to the south of bad Arthurian fan fiction.