After the decision was made to relaunch the “Hellboy” film franchise, die-hard fans spent more time kvetching about who was going to be underneath the prosthetics than who would be writing it. The sorry surprise is that David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) proves to be a worthy successor to Ron Perlman, only to be undone by some truly shoddy scripting.
The movie adapts the “Wild Hunt” storyline and lifts much from a few others, and in doing so bites off more than it can chew. Those arcs were integral parts of Hellboy’s narrative, and creator Mike Mignola spent a lot of time and energy building up to and spinning repercussions out of them. It’s too much for one movie, especially a first installment of a rebooted film franchise, and the result is a simplified version boiled down to highlights rendered in broad strokes and bad CGI set to a grating hair metal soundtrack.
The semblance of a plot involves the return of Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a legendary witch-queen who was dismembered by King Arthur and scattered ‘where no one will ever find them’ which of course someone does in order to raise an army of monsters and something-something apocalypse.
Enter Mr. Boy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, represented this time around by Hellboy’s father-figure Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), scarred special ops soldier Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), and psychic medium Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane). Hellboy has brief bouts of self-doubt as to which band of monsters he should be siding with, while everyone else remains two-dimensional at best. By the time a werejaguar, Merlin, and the sword Excalibur come into play it’s impossible to give a damn.
Director Neil Marshall, who’s helmed cult classics (“The Descent” and “Doomsday”) and some memorable “Game of Thrones” episodes, makes the bold choice to go big and lean into the horror and assorted weird elements from Mignola’s comic book series; unfortunately, he goes overboard in that regard, especially when combined with his gonzo approach to action sequences. He somehow manages to be both grotesque and mind-numbingly tedious at the same time.
The visual quality is inconsistent as well. The opening sequence, a riff on “Hellboy in Mexico” involving a vampire luchador, looks great and provides an energetic starting point; after that the quality of the CGI effects ranges from average to downright shoddy.
Stories of behind-the-scenes strife are emerging, and the subsequent finger pointing has begun, but one thing is clear: The scripting phase screwed this movie from the start. The screenplay is credited to Andrew Cosby, whose credits are limited to scripting a handful of episodes each of “Eureka” and “Haunted”. He’s out of his depth here, opting for exposition-heavy dialogue, hackneyed banter, minimal character development, and an over-reliance on origin stories presented via flashback – no less than four of those. To call it a chaotic mess is an insult to chaos.
It’s all very frustrating. There is an amazing depth and pathos to the “Hellboy” comic books, but you wouldn’t know it after slogging through this iteration. The character, the fans, and the cast all deserve far better than this.