The needless reboot of Hellboy sheds light on a union between director Neil Marshall and Lionsgate that practically screamed perfect-match but is in need of an annulment.
Legendary director Guillermo Del Toro’s vision of Hellboy came during a time when many had grown tired of the superhero genre. Studios were churning these films out with all looks, no substance, and some weren’t ready for his nuanced, dark, anti-hero vision. Before him, Burton and Schumacher never approached anything more than skin-deep with Batman. Del Toro found a comic book hero that fit his Pan’s Labyrinth sensibilities, washing off all the sugar that coats most child fairytale films for Millennials and late-born Gen-X cinephiles craving something darker, more adult, with greater consequences. While his foray into comic book films wasn’t a box-office smash, it did pave the way for bleaker visions of the genre (I contend Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the result of Hellboy’s stance) and with Marvel rebooting the entire genre in itself, one would think the third installment of Pearlman and company would be a sure thing — especially when you take into account the cult following it has a built in nearly a decade. Studios, though, do what studios do, ruining a chance at greatness, going with a director who flamed out after his initial debut, reported production issues, and the result is a cheap imitation that is unworthy of its iconic character.
The reboot of Hellboy recasts Ron Pearlman with actor David Harbour, who is better known for his role in Netflix’s Stranger Things, but also has over 50 film and television credits under his belt. They say Batman, initially, was all about the voice; the same goes for Hellboy. Trying to imitate Pearlman’s would come across as false, but the initial change from the actor’s tones can be jarring (especially after a re-watch of the first two films with Pearlman’s dark, deep vocals, and having a very successful career as a voice-over artist). While Pearlman, no matter in how much makeup, brings natural gravitas to the role, along with deadpan anti-hero insults, Harbour brings a lighter touch to the film series. Gone are almost all the supporting characters from the first two films (so long Doug Jones), with Hellboy traveling to Mexico to find his partner that went MIA. The Beast of the Apocalypse comes back to the BPRD (Bureau of Research and Defense) to his father and brings all sorts of daddy-issues with him. Soon, they must deal with an evil sorceress (Milla Jovovich, the go-to horror queen) who is hell-bent on escaping her “prison” and exacting revenge on the world. The rest of the film is a clunky effort in the telling of an origin story that tries to balance the current storyline and doesn’t do either very well.
Therein lies the issues with the new Hellboy vision, with director Neil Marshall (you loved his The Descent, and fell out of the feeling with Doomsday and The Centurion) trying his hand with balancing a horror film, a swing at a big-budget comic book franchise, and almost spoof-like jokes for comic relief. There is no seamless transition or equal balance between scenes for his version of The Right Hand of Doom, being below average at all instead of good at one. While you may have to admire the effort of making a superhero genre film that is straight horror, it never gets there, trying to smash together the director’s horror sensibilities and combine it with an influence of the studio to produce a less ambitious comic book picture for mass audience consumption; it simply doesn’t work. The script by Andrew Crosby, best known for creating the television show Eureka, attempts to combine inspiration from four of the titular character’s comic books (Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, The Storm and the Fury, and Hellboy in Mexico). This contributes to the same misguided attempt from its director, cluttering the film’s storylines, using Hellboy’s daddy issues as the character’s generic inner motivation, and missing the mark on almost all of its intended humor. In fact, the standout scene in the entire film is the post-credits variety that doesn’t offer any insight but is the most fun I had with Marshal’s film. I wish they would have stuck with that style throughout the duration and this would have shown off Harbour at his Hellboy best.
Hiring the team of Marshall and Crosby as a follow-up act to Del Toro because of their history with the horror and fantasy genres is like calling up Richard Kelly to remake Blade Runner because he made one low-budget popular sci-fi fantasy film. The result is a cheap knock off. Nothing is nearly as nuanced as the original, and along with the director/writer’s cluttered visions, you just watch a film that has more in common with Schumacher’s failed comic fable attempts than any of the great ones we have had from the genre in the past decade.
The only silver lining can be a backlash from a fervent fanbase that gets the team of Del Toro and company back on board to complete their vision. This needless reboot of Hellboy sheds light on a union between director Neil Marshall and Lionsgate that practically screamed a perfect match, but after looking at the end result, is in serious need of an annulment. It may be an act of desperation or seen as pathetic, but we need to get our ex back.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.