If I am being completely honest, I was not too happy to hear that instead of a third Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy movie, we were instead going to be getting a reboot. However, I tried my best to put my disappointment aside and go into the new movie with an open mind. It wasn’t like Del Toro’s Hellboy was a particularly close adaptation of the comics, there is certainly room for a different but still good take. Hellboy (2019) is certainly different, but it is not good.
This movie shares many traits with Del Toro’s Hellboy movies. As is common with Del Toro movies, his Hellboy movies largely sympathized with the monsters. Hellboy and Abe Sapien most obviously, but even the one off creatures and the villains are generally portrayed at least partially sympathetically. This movie does the same. Again, that almost goes without saying with Hellboy, but also villains like the Gruagach and Nimue get at least some moments of sympathy. It also features a lot of practical creature effects, though there feels like there is more CGI here. If only the movie around the these things was enjoyable.
This new Hellboy is focused, almost exclusively, on two things: plot and gore. The first is not necessarily a problem. Hellboy is an action movie and those tend to focus on plot. Hellboy, though, crams in enough plot for three movies. It feels like it is consciously trying not to fall into the trap of that many would be franchise starters do, of spending a lot of time setting up stuff for future movies. To Hellboy’s credit, it puts as much on the screen as possible. It tries to tell a story, but the story is just too much, like a trilogy crammed into one movie. The movie feels like it is sprinting from one set piece to another, without ever taking time to really explore the concepts it introduces. It starts in Medieval times, with King Arthur defeating Nimue, the Blood Queen. Then it jumps to Hellboy in Mexico tracking down a lost agent, before shunting him off London to hunt giants, only to be betrayed by his friends. Mixed into that are scenes of a pig monster, the Gruagach, hunting down the pieces of the quartered Blood Queen in order to revive her. Then Hellboy gets in on the race for the parts of the Blood Queen, which sends him all over England. There is just so much. It is coherent, but it mostly exists as just a bunch of half formed concepts that exist to propel the story along without actually being about anything.
While the story is just a little too much, the gore is definitely a problem. It reveals a big problem with the movie, stressing affect rather than tone. This movie started out with the intention of being rated R, and made sure it had the gore to earn it, whether or not that gore was necessary or helpful. It wants so bad to be cool and adult that it makes itself appear all the more juvenile. It is just trying to hard, and the gore is a big part of that. It feels desperate. Honestly, if it had just relaxed and been the movie it was, it would have been much more likeable. It wouldn’t have fixed all of the movie’s problems, but it would have made them more forgivable.
There is stuff in Hellboy to like. The cast does their best with the material they have; the highlight being Ian McShane. Hellboy is a great concept. But the movie is just … bad. All the pieces are here, but not of them seem to fit together right. Though the plot is almost entirely different, it ends up feeling like a pale imitation of not only the previous Hellboy movies, but of quite a few recent action movies.