The deck was stacked against the Hellboy remake the moment it was announced Guillermo del Toro would not be directing a third Hellboy movie. Fans,old and new, long clamored for a third del Toro Hellboy film and they were disappointed when he tweeted the movie would never happen.
Hellboy fans didn’t put their torches away when it was announced David Harbour was cast to play the lead role. A lot of fans had a lot to say about Harbour and Hellboy in general. It seemed fans liked Harbour as Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, but not as a known property in Hellboy. Fan, and critic, animosity carried over to the theatrical release of the movie. The movie bombed. It’s a shame fans wrote the movie off as a loser even before they saw one scene let alone the complete movie.
Let’s get to the point right away. Hellboy is a good comic book movie with a few problems. It wouldn’t be a comic book movie without a few problems. Even Avengers: Endgame had issues. At least the Hellboy story didn’t take ten years to tell only to conclude it by solving all the problems with time travel. To be fair, the time-travel-to-solve-problems trope is pretty fitting for a comic book movie. Hellboy has totally different problems.
COMIC BOOK PROBLEMS
The problem with most comic book reboots is we have to be told the characters origin again and again. We’ve seen Batman’s origin twice on film and we will see the origin again with Matt Reeves’s upcoming The Batman. Spider Man’s origin has been told three times. Batman and Spider Man are established characters. Even if you didn’t read the comic book you know Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed which lead him to become Batman. Who didn’t know Peter Park was bitten by a radio active spider before Sam Raimi brought the character to the big screen?
Hellboy doesn’t have the history like other comic book characters. A new movie required an origin or at least background context for a new audience. Instead of dedicating half the movie to an origin story director Neil Marshall dedicated only a few minutes in a flashback to the character’s origin. Flashbacks are one of the movies big issues.
Hellboy has more flashbacks than most movies. We have flashbacks to Hellboy’s birth, flashbacks to Ben Daimio’s origin, flashbacks to Alice’s origin where we even get treated to Hellboy in his grunge phase, flashbacks to Nimue’s origin. Flashbacks can work, but more often than not its a weak storytelling device. Hellboy shows what it can tell. Ben Daimio’s Predator like origin was pretty good, but Daimio could have told his story the first time he transformed. Most of the time used for flashbacks could have been used to develop the plot and story.
In the future it would be nice if movies didn’t insult viewers with title cards. Giant letters appear on the screen announcing Hellboy’s arrival at the B.P.R.D. Seconds later there’s a close up of the B.P.R.D logo as Hellboy walks down a hallway. Later we’re told Hellboy was going to England to meet members of the Osiris Club. There’s a long shot of London with the famous egg shaped building in the background and the city’s famous Ferris wheel as Hellboy’s plane lands. If iconic landmarks aren’t enough of a giveaway Hellboy is in another country the next scene has characters all speaking with an English accent. Film makers need to give their audience the benefit of the doubt that they know world monuments.
Hellboy is monster hunter with B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense). Hellboy does monsters really well. The first monster we see is an an agent of the B.P.R.D. turning into a giant vampire, wings included. Hellboy later faces giants, Baba Yaga (a witch who lives in a living house), Gruagach, a half-man half-boar monster, and zombies. The best part of the movie are the monsters. They’re so good it’s a shame the whole movie wasn’t about Hellboy just fighting monsters.
Hellboy, whether in the comic books or in the previous movies, has always been about Hellboy finding his true place in the world of man. The monsters serve as a Hellboy’s mirror. If they’re monsters and he hunts monsters what does that make him? Although Professor Broom (Ian McShane, Deadwood) raised him like a human son he’s stilled pulled in two directions. It’s the old question of nurture versus nature the movie only briefly examines before the comic book explosions start.
The Osiris Club, England’s version of the B.P.R.D., sees things different from Professor Broom. To the English, Hellboy can only be bad because he’s prophesied to bring about the end of the world. Except they know how the world almost ended. Adam Glaren (Alistair Petrie, The Terror) of the Osiris Club explains to Hellboy how Nimue aka The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element) almost spread a plague that would have wiped out the world if King Arthur hadn’t cut her head off. He even explains to him how pieces of her body were chopped up and put into boxes. To make plot matters worse the group knows the boxes are being found and opened. The Osiris Club can’t have it both ways- Either Hellboy is going to bring about the end of the world or the Blood Queen is going to bring about the end of the world.
COMIC BOOK ENDING
As it turns out it’s both Hellboy and the Blood Queen who will bring about the end of the world. Once Hellboy pulls Excalibur from the stone, after seeing Broom die, literally all hell breaks loose. The Blood Queen’s plague spreads through London along with all sorts of demons from hell. This being a comic book movie half of London is destroyed before Hellboy defeats Nimue.
Hellboy has its moments that make you groan. During the spreading plague one TV newscaster says authorities are unable to pint point the origin of the plague, but they know it will have spread across England in two hours. The one liners, like “It smashes things really good” to explain what Hellboy’s giant hand does, are cheesy. Hellboy is also a little more bloody than the two previous movies. For all its faults Hellboy is still a good comic book movie that never had a chance.
AN UNEXPLORED UNIVERSE
Mike Mignola has created an immense universe. It deserves to be explored just as much as anything in the Marvel Comics Universe or any other cinematic universe. Mignola’s universe may not be filled with spandex clad characters or gem stones. It’s a supernatural universe populated with demons, ghosts, monsters, and, yes, even characters with super powers. The back ground stories often fill in the gaps of the future, but these stories are just as viable for movies as the present stories. It would have been awesome to have seen a spin off movie of Lobster Johnson staring Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways). Alas, there won’t be a sequel and no Abe Sapien. Maybe a review embargo could have done wonders for Hellboy like it did for countless Marvel movies.