Better the devil we knew… in the earlier films about Hellboy

by Shane Dillon
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This week, our resident cinema buff takes on the latest rendition of the classic Hellboy.

I can’t call myself a Hellboy expert, but I’d liked the relatively recent films (2004, 2008), as well as being vaguely familiar with the character even before director Guillermo del Toro brought his singular touch to Hellboy’s universe back then.

So the news that Hellboy was getting a total reboot, sans del Toro or Ron Perlman back as ‘Big Red’ again, promoted a “Hell, no!” response from lots of Hellboy fans, including me.

In loosely adapting a number of the cult comic’s base stories and characters, stirring in lots of Arthurian legend and then ramping up gory elements, the end result is something of a hellish mess.

In this Hellboy (Cert 16, 121 mins), the titular character (gamely played by Stranger Things’ David Harbour) is a grumpy but very powerful supernatural asset at a secret agency that itself fights paranormal beings and events.

Hellboy has a poor relationship with his human ‘dad’, agency leader Bruttenholm (Ian McShane, in a largely thankless exposition-dump role), with his own origins and life as a demon raised by humans who slaughters other demons putting Hellboy in an uncomfortable zone.

However, Hellboy has to set aside his own inner demons to help tackle the film’s ‘big bad’: Nimue, an ancient witch that the film sets up early on as a supremely powerful, evil being.

Thanks to a whole mish-mash of Arthurian legend bits and bobs, Nimue was defeated back then, then dismembered and her bits and bobs scattered across England before she could succeed at her game of kill-all-the-humans.

In the present world however, with the news that someone’s been gathering Nimue’s remains, the race is on to find and stop them before Nimue is resurrected and literal Hell is unleashed on earth.

Now, if only Hellboy wasn’t torn between his feelings of saving all the humans, or feeling “To hell with them all” – a feeling that Nimue’s keen to exploit…

There’s a lot more than that going on here, with the film throwing everything but the blood-soaked kitchen sink into this frequently gory reboot.

It’s also saddled with a busy plot – so much so that Hellboy’s supporting characters and actors don’t quite get the attention they should.

However, there are more pressing, issues that hamper the film throughout, such as occasionally ropey effects, clumsy editing and an underwhelming script and muddled plot.

To be fair, there are things to like here, too.

Some of the monster designs and settings are great, some of the gorier moments are very effective, there’s good support from Milla Jovovich as Nimue and Daniel Dae Kim as Hellboy’s M11 agent partner, and Harbour – while no Perlman – is okay as everyone’s favourite grumpy demon hero.

However, damning Hellboy with faint praise just can’t save this reboot, and it’s hard not to think “What a bloody mess” after seeing this.

Maybe Hellboy should just have stayed in production hell…

  • Verdict: 3/10

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