2019’s “Hellboy” is one of those films that has some great elements to it, and obviously had at least some departments working very hard on it, but the final product is such a mess that you’re left more interested in what the hell happened to the movie, besides the movie itself. Comparisons to Del Toro’s duology, while tempting, are completely unnecessary as this is a beast all it’s own. It’s not exactly an origin story but still discusses both his origin and destiny.
Taking a cue from “Transformers: The Last Knight” our tale opens with a flashback to the legendary King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and his trusty magical side-kick Merlin (Brian Gleeson). They are meeting the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich) to surrender. In a sudden reversal, Arthur attacks and beheads her, using the only thing that could defeat (but not kill) Nimue: Excalibur! As Ian McShane narrates with F-bombs galore, she’s cut up into a few more pieces, locked in holy boxes, and sent off to be secretly buried at the four (six?) corners of the Earth.
The film’s title hasn’t even graced the screen yet and we’ve already been assaulted by a variety of conflicting tropes and poor storytelling. Also painfully evident is how badly the filmmakers want you to know, “This is an R-Rated movie!” Like a child who only swears when his parents aren’t around, the language and violence are abrasive and tone-deaf, struggling to prove a point instead of serving the story.
A quick jump to “Present Day” and we’re off to Tijuana where Hellboy (David Harbour) is trying to track down a friend and fellow B.P.R.D. agent…at a Luche Libra match. The 15-minute segment, which quickly plummets into the pit of ludicrousness, has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Once it’s over, and Hellboy has sobered up, we’re suddenly in America for some more exposition, and then jetted off to England for a side mission, that again, has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. When it comes to exposition in film, the adage is “Show, don’t tell.” This movie chooses to do both, often at the same time. Each sub-character get’s their own flashback scene, that is also narrated, and sometimes re-told to others. So much time is spent on backstory, that all the important plot points, like “How were these hidden things found so easily?” are swept under the rug and ignored. Perhaps it’s in an attempt to re-define the legends this story has co-opted for the pop-culture value of their names? Nimue was generally known as one of the Ladies of the Lake, and although occasionally nefarious, certainly not one to bring about the end of mankind. Excalibur was Arthur’s second sword, provided by the Lady of the Lake, and although quite magical, was never stuck in stone nor responsible for determining England’s Royal Lineage.
The ridiculous plot of the film could have (maybe? potentially?) worked, if it were not for the terrible dialog, horrible editing, and jarringly bad CGI. So many lines of dialog are dubbed in that it becomes evident that the editors were #1 trying to patch plot holes, #2 creating scene transitions that weren’t shot originally, and #3 try out different humorous one-liners. If these were the “good” jokes, I shudder to think what the bad ones were. A number of scenes are cut just like a comic book, turn the page and you’re in a new location, while the narration box drones on. No sense of time or distance exists and it destroys any semblance of reality. Even comic-book movies about benevolent demons with a rock hand still need a certain amount of credibility to be enjoyed. If there are no stakes, no baseline of reality to relate to, then it’s impossible for the audience to engage.
Only two elements really stand out as being notable. The cast is quite exceptional. They all fit their parts perfectly and are doing their best to deliver terrible lines. I’m tempted to believe this is some of Milla Jovovich‘s best acting since “The Fifth Element”! David Harbour is an impressive successor to Ron Perlman, so it’s rather heartbreaking to see him trying to deliver the juvenile sentences the script has tasked him with. The other area that tried to rise about the abyss was the (mostly) impressive practical effects. The makeup on David Harbour is quite impressive, except for the plastic looking Right Hand of Doom. Other characters, such as the bipedal-boar Gruagach (Douglas Tait & Stephen Graham) absolutely amazing! At least until they stretch his face to cartoonish proportions when animating any speech. Again and again, in this film, brilliant character design, art-design, and practical makeup is ruined by cheap CGI manipulation.
After screening this film, I immediately began wondering what happened behind the scenes. Director Neil Marshall has done some GREAT movies (The Descent ) and TERRIBLE movies (Doomsday) But this is the first time he’s directed something he didn’t write. Andrew Cosby is credited as the screenwriter, but Hellboy creator Mike Mignola has been commenting on how involved he was in the story. In fact, some of the most ridiculous plot points actually come directly from the source material. Even a meddling creator wouldn’t explain the apparent post-production re-writes and clunky editing. It’s still a rumor at this point, but GeekTyrant is reporting there was a lot of drama on set and that producers took over the film’s final edit. If true, it would explain what a mess this movie ended up being.