You’ve probably heard someone use the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. And yet, today’s cinematic leaders have a fascination with creating new versions of popular media that have come before. TV shows and movies are fair game, if you can land the licensing rights.
The latest — and severely reviled — film is “Hellboy,” which opened last week. The film stars “Stranger Things” star David Harbour in the title role. There was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth when the reboot was announced.
Ron Perlman and Guillermo Del Toro created a magical combo that is loved by a lot of fans. “Hellboy,” starring Perlman, came out in 2004 with a follow-up, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” coming out five years later. Del Toro and Perlman never finished telling their story as the third film never came to fruition, much to the chagrin of fans (including me).
So, when a reboot was announced, a lot of folks weren’t thrilled, especially with the title character recast. Now, Harbour is a talented actor. (Seriously, it’s not him, it’s us. We really wanted to see where Del Toro and Perlman would take Hellboy’s story.)
Instead, we get a reboot. The idea wasn’t well received, and the box office numbers reflect that. I promise I really did go into with an open mind. Unfortunately, it didn’t help.
The 2019 reboot is a bit of a hot mess. Not all of it, but a good chunk.
The film is also something of a retread. Hellboy is working with B.P.R.D. (the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development) to hunt down the things that go bump in the night. His father, Professor Broom (Ian McShane) guides him, although a bit harshly.
The film’s big bad comes in the form of Vivien Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a witch exiled and dismembered by King Arthur (Mark Stanley himself). Hundreds of years later, she’s pieced back together and restored to her full power by a naïve henchman, Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham), who wants revenge on Hellboy for a past confrontation.
Nimue believes Hellboy will be her king after he brings about the apocalypse. Basically everyone in the film believes Hellboy is going to bring about the apocalypse, and the idea is given a good chunk of screen time.
Alice (Sasha Lane) — there’s no Liz Sherman to be found — hears dead people who tell her to kill him while she can. Agent Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) ponders contingency plans. Everyone has a thought about Hellboy’s future, and we get to hear most of them.
Harbour isn’t a bad Hellboy. He’s not Perlman, but if Perlman hadn’t come before, would so many be offering up such negative reviews? No. Unfortunately, for director Neil Marshall & Co., every bit of this film was open to comparison, from aesthetics to action to acting.
I’ll break it down.
Acting — Harbour, McShane and Jovovich aren’t bad. That last one unfortunately suffers from an overused storyline — an evil witch resurrected who wants to destroy the world. We seriously just saw it a few months ago with Rebecca Ferguson playing basically the same part in “The Kid Who Would be King.” Neither role was impressive.
Action — It’s actually not horrible. The CGI is questionable, but the actual fighting is kind of fun at times. Hellboy faces off against three giants at one point, and it’s kind of fun. Not necessarily well made, but kind of fun. Harbour plays a big role in that, though.
Aesthetics — A writer I follow on Twitter said Harbour’s Hellboy looked like a “rotting jack-o-lantern at times.” That’s kinda harsh. It also had me staring at him extra closely at times. Aesthetically, I don’t have a lot of issues. One character, Baba Yaga (“Twisty Troy” James), is incredibly creepy and disturbing to look at, so I’ll count that as successful. She’s also one of the most interesting characters in the film, which is a shame that she’s just a bit part.
My biggest issue with the 2019 “Hellboy” is this: It’s gory and gruesome for the sake of being gory and gruesome. The film has an R rating, and it earns every bit of it. Profanity is pretty commonplace, and it’s used a great deal here, too. The blood and violence, though, are off the charts.
And, that’s a problem. When the most memorable thing about your movie is the completely unnecessary use of graphic violence and profanity, what are you doing as storytellers? Not much. Skip this one. Break out the old films or crack open some graphic novels. Just do something to rid yourself of this adaptation.