Neil Marshall’s Hellboy flopped hard at the box office back in April. And it really didn’t deserve to. Off the back of a $50,000,000 budget, the film only took an estimated $48,000,000 worldwide, essentially ensuring the franchise won’t see the light of day for an awful long time.
When Marshall’s adaptation was announced, it was a shock and a salve. The horror director (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) has turned in some spectacular features, always with practical effects and gore at the forefront. Problem is, it’s only been five years since Guillermo Del Toro released Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. Fans the world over feel like the franchise was robbed from Perlman and the rest of the “Scooby Gang” before they got to finish their trilogy. Others saw the reboot as a chance to better adapt the gritty world of Mike Mignola’s graphic novels.
A Mixed Bag
First things first, Hellboy 2018 straddles a fence between lame and cool. It’s the film’s single biggest issue. Some of the soundtrack choices and humour feel angled towards teen bros. It’s as if Marshall’s Hellboy was conceived as a hard-rock video game revamp of Del Toro’s fantastical world; custom-built for a new generation of thick-skinned teens. There’s some retro rock in there which really fits (Billy Idol’s Mony Mony and Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare) but so many other tracks feel out of place or cringe-inducing.
Perlman’s Hellboy was an experienced monster-masher whilst Harbour’s is, comparatively, angsty and wet-behind-the-ears. The film embodies that angst dangerously well. The relative inexperience of this new Hellboy, and the love for Perlman, is one of the main reasons the film flopped. Tonal inconsistency and dodgy humour didn’t help.
Marshall’s Hellboy definitely boasts a more graphic, racier, roster of gory loud-mouthed treats. The R-Rating (one of the film’s few intriguing attributes before release) gives the world an edge that was missing under Del Toro’s PG-friendly adaptation. The fact horror fans and gore hounds didn’t turn up in their droves is testament to how quietly the film slipped in and out of cinemas.
Mutilation after mutilation, graphic demises, and gorgeously orchestrated monsters; it’s a joyous collision of Superhero and Horror film. Dismemberments are followed by torrents of blood, limbs fly, viscera stains the sets red and things get real nasty. Hellboy’s brawl with a pack of monstrous giants is a gore-drenched highlight resulting on swathes of blood dying the English countryside crimson. The climactic Hell on Earth sequence hits Cabin in the Woods levels of joyous monstrosity unleashing a horde of demons, built purely for human suffering, on the citizens of London. FX Artist Allen Williams deserves a heap of love just for the concept designs of these Hell-Beasts.
The New World of Gods and Monsters
The switch in locations, from the US to UK, is a nice move too, providing a new wealth of visual and narrative flavours. So much so, that Marshall’s Hellboy feels like a greatest hits of English folk lore, complete with Arthurian tangents, fairies, changelings, and secret societies of Giant-hunting toffs. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) makes a fine villain but an underused one. Jovovich’s English accent is a bit naff, but her dedication makes her the stand-out performer and easily the best villain of the three Hellboy films. The fact she doesn’t get to flaunt her skills as an action star, is a bit disappointing.
The new “Scooby Gang” is arguably more fun to watch in action too. Gone is the romantic entanglement with Selma Blair’s pyromaniac and the light brotherly sparring with aquatic icon Abe Sapien. Hellboy’s new crew consists of young psychic Alice (a charismatic turn from young star Sasha Lane) and Major Daimio (Daniel Dae-Kim) a disgruntled Were-Jaguar. Harbour’s on-screen chemistry with Lane is tangible and less wrought that Perlman’s was with Blair, but it’s a tough-love father/daughter pairing as opposed to a romantic one. Even Ian McShane’s (John Wick 3) take on Professor Broom is craggier, but eventually more sincere, than Hurt’s ever was with Perlman. By the end of the film, the family values we jumped into with Perlman’s world, are only just revealing themselves.
Though not as cohesive as Del Toro’s world, Marshall’s is a bold, grizzly, 80’s-infused creature feature, and fresh take on the source material. Die-hard fans may still not be content with the lack of cosmic horror, but Hellboy 2019 is a step in the right direction. Shame then, that studio politics and over-bearing producers have soured the experience for Marshall. This is a Hellboy adaptation no one really asked for or expected, but its charms are plenty. The prospects of a sequel look highly unlikely, unless of course the horror community brings the film cult status and big bucks by buying the shit out of its home release. So…go get it, folks.
Dir. Neil Marshall
Stars. David Harbour, Sasha Lane, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich, Alistair Petrie, Thomas Haden Church