In 2019, Hellboy was rebooted after Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman decided not to complete their Hellboy trilogy saying that no studio would give them $120 million to do it. Director Neil Marshall, best known for his horror film The Descent (2006) was slated to direct, with David Harbor starring in the role of Hellboy.
The film starts off with a story being told by Professor Broom (played by Ian McShane) about how King Arthur fought and killed the blood queen, Vivienne Nimue (played by Milla Jovovich) with his sword, Excalibur. Cut to the present, we see Hellboy going to Tijuana, Mexico to retrieve one of his friends, fellow BPRD agent Esteban Ruiz. The two fight and Agent Ruiz turns into a bat-creature. Hellboy accidentally kills Ruiz and is then brought back to the BPRD. Back home, Professor Broom sends him to England to help the Osiris Club hunt giants. Meanwhile, a pig monster thing is told by a witch Baba Yaga to revive Queen Nimue so that they can both get revenge on Hellboy for…reasons. Hellboy is betrayed by the Osiris Club and he is critically wounded after killing the giants himself. He’s rescued by a young woman named Alice (played by Sasha Lane) and Professor Broom retrieves Hellboy, tasking him to stop Nimue. Hellboy, Alice, and commando Ben Daimio (played by Daniel Dae-Kim) are charged with a mission to stop the Blood Queen.
There’s a lot to unpack here, where to start? First off, the dialogue is God awful! Ian McShane has a spectacular voice, but he is given absolute dog shit dialogue to work with. The story is told backwards, with long scenes of exposition that are placed almost randomly throughout the film and should only be a third of the time used to explain stuff. The pacing is all over the place, with a lot of scenes happening for no real reason, only to give more exposition. A good example of this is when Hellboy is sent to the Osiris Club to help them hunt giants. Why? Haven’t these guys been hunting giants their whole lives? Oh wait, I know why: so we can hear about Hellboy’s backstory! Another issue I had with the film was how convenient everything was: Excalibur and Arthur’s tomb was located under St. Paul’s Cathedral, Alice somehow tracking down Hellboy even though they haven’t stayed in contact for years, Daimio conveniently turning into a jaguar monster to help Hellboy, and many others. It’s like the film just said “fuck it” and just crammed everything in.
The tone of the movie shifts as much as the weather in Minnesota! It goes from epic and dark, to action-comedy, to horror, and back to some weird Meta humor and cheesy pop culture references. Speaking of the jokes, they aren’t even that funny! It’s as if a fourteen year old was invited on set to write the jokes to make it appeal to the kids. Half the time, the jokes don’t make sense, and when they DO make sense, you just end up rolling your eyes at how stupid they sound!
The film tries to take on a more serious and darker tone compared to its two predecessors. However, by removing the more fantastical tone, you end up with a generic hero movie with an end of the world plot. It tries really hard to justify its R-rating by overindulging in the blood and gore, spending a full minute on the monsters of hell killing people in gruesome ways. While I mentioned the distasteful dialogue, I should specify that the characters swear way too much. While I don’t have any issue with gore or swearing, in this case, it feels like a kid trying to sound badass by swearing after every other word. The final scene with Professor Broom and Hellboy has the worst case of this: Broom literally tells Hellboy to stop being a whiny little shit and to grow a pair. I mean, wow, Isn’t it such a moving speech? Is this a grown ass man talking or some kid pretending to be an adult?! Seriously, this dialogue is like an edgy preteen rendition of Del Toro’s classic.
Along with the shoddy dialogue and the convoluted plot, this has some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a modern film! Baby Hellboy in a flashback looks like he’s literally made of rubber! Milla Jovovich’s severed head and a lot of the monster transformation scenes look like they’re still being rendered! How does the CGI in 2019 look worse than in 2004?! Did technology just evolve backwards?! I shouldn’t even compare this atrocity to the Del Toro films. Whereas those films had some of the most breathtaking visuals I’ve seen full of life, vigor, and passion, this one feels like a generic Hollywood monster flick with an apocalyptic setting. Everything is either ash gray, steel gray, or olive green. There is almost no life or passion seen in this reboot.
While Ron Perlman is the definitive Hellboy, I actually think David Harbor had the potential to be a great successor. Truth be told, when I first saw him in Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016), I thought he would make an amazing Hellboy. However, when I first saw the first trailer, right away I knew they were going in the wrong direction with this film. The childish dialogue, Hellboy’s redesign, and the muddy color palette all felt like it was trying too hard to be edgy and “cool”. If he were given a better script, I think he would do a much better job.
Another thing I would like to say is that Hellboy’s partners in this film are really bland. Sasha Lane’s Alice has no real personality except for when the plot needs her to be the emotional support for Hellboy. Daniel Dae-Kim’s character, Ben Daimio, is just some generic tough commando trope. He hates monsters because his entire squad was killed and his face scarred, but then undergoes a complete character shift to helping Hellboy at the end without much buildup. Ian McShane as Professor Broom is not a bad choice, but in a lot of his scenes, he doesn’t really look like he’s giving a shit about what he’s saying. At the end when he has a final conversation with his adoptive son, he looked like he was going to fall asleep!
Hellboy (2019) had a budget of $50 million and grossed only $44.7 million worldwide, making it a box office bomb. David Harbor said that he believed the reason why the film failed was due to fans of the original Del Toro films not wanting a Hellboy reboot. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. While fans of the original Hellboy films wanted a complete trilogy, 2019’s Hellboy has its own share of problems that makes it awful, such as its dialogue, tone, pacing, characters, and special effects. Additionally, many fans also blame this movie for Del Toro’s third Hellboy film not being made. I don’t think this was the case for Del Toro’s film being cancelled, I think it was a mixture of poor timing, and indecision on his end. Overall, this film could’ve been a decent standalone film that honors the original Hellboy films. However, it ended up being an embarrassment to both itself, and the name of Hellboy.