Mike Mignola is one helluva’ talent in the world of comics. One whose style is incredibly unique. Mignola began his career in comics as an artist, working for both Marvel and DC Comics. During that time he did the now legendary run of Batman: A Death in the Family (1988) covers. If you’ll recall your comics history, that particular storyline resulted in Robin/Jason Todd’s demise thanks to phone-in votes of readers. However, after making his mark on the comic book industry, Mignola decided he wanted more creative control and thus teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to unleash Hellboy on the world.
Making his first full appearance in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993), Hellboy and the world he inhabited provided something an entirely different for comic readers. A hero spawned from the depths of Hell; who looked liked The Devil, but also had a sense of humor. Before long, Hellboy received a solo mini-series, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (March-June 1994). Seed of Destruction opened up the universe of Hellboy, introducing the supporting cast of The B.P.R.D., and expanding on Big Red’s internal/personal conflicts. Furthermore, this comic book series utilized monsters, fantasy, horror, folklore; thus offering an alternative to your average superhero book.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hellboy. As a longtime fan, it’s been amazing to witness the longevity and growing fanbase of this character. Over the past quarter of a century, there have been numerous Hellboy mini-series, one-shots, and spin-off titles. However, I think it was Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), starring Ron Perlman, that helped the horned hero’s popularity grow. For myself and many other fans, these two movies are great adaptations of their source material. Del Toro managed to capture the tone of the comics; all the while making it accessible to audiences as PG-13 films. Furthermore, Perlman was the perfect Hellboy, practically becoming the character.
While these films have a hardcore fan base (myself included), we weren’t enough to bring the final entry in Del Toro and Perlman’s planned trilogy to fruition. See, these flicks made more money on home video than they did at the box-office. Hellboy (2004) grossed nearly $100 million worldwide. But, Columbia Pictures was not satisfied with that return as the film cost $66 million to produce. Still, other movie studios saw filmic potential in the character, which is why Universal Pictures brought Hellboy II: The Golden Army in the summer of 2008. Despite the sequel grossing nearly $90 million, box-office history repeated itself.
Every studio that put out a comic book movie that summer wanted to gross the same billion dollars that The Dark Knight (2008) did. Anything less was considered a disappointment. As a result, the hero from Hell’s film rights were once again in flux. During the intervening years, Del Toro and Perlman attempted to find a home so they could complete their trilogy. Eventually, the Hellboy movie rights were picked-up by Lionsgate. Sadly, Lionsgate had no interest in producing the final installment in a trilogy. Instead, the studio decided to follow the current Hollywood trend of rebooting.
In doing so, Lionsgate hired director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) to helm the new take on Hellboy. Considering the director’s horror genre roots, it’s no surprise that he wanted to tap into those elements of the source material to make an R-rated reboot. With Marshall in place, a new Hellboy needed to be cast. No small task as Perlman is widely considered to be perfect for the part. Even so, actor David Harbour (Stranger Things) was eventually chosen to don the red, prosthetic makeup to become the new hardcore Hellboy.
This R-rated Hellboy reboot takes its cues from the comics to tell the kind of story both crave, and for better or worse, expect. When he’s not getting into tequila-drenched misadventures in Mexico or hunting giants; the half-man, half demon misfit hero Hellboy (David Harbour) finds himself questioning his place in the world. However, Big Red must soon put his problems with this world on hold to save it. Nimue, The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) has been resurrected and is bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Of course, only Hellboy can stop her. Who better to fight the ultimate source of ancient evil than a guy with Hell on his side?
First-and-foremost, David Harbour is invested in playing our Hell-spawned hero. The actor truly gives this performance his all. However, despite his efforts, it feels like Harbour is just doing an impression of Ron Perlman playing Hellboy. Even when the actor finally gets into his groove, he doesn’t manage to disappear into the titular character. Then again, Harbour’s performance is not helped by the fact that Hellboy’s essential interpersonal relationship with Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) is completely mismanaged in this film. No longer do the two characters feel like they have a surrogate father-son relationship, but that of an aggravated employer-employee. Sure, the pair of actors possess on-screen chemistry; but McShane’s frankly miscast as Bruttenholm.
Hellboy (2019) is a decently made film. One in which Neil Marshall manages to utilize the horror aspects of Hellboy as opposed to the fantasy ones. But, thanks to Marshall’s made-for-TV movie style, this $50 million picture can’t help but look a little cheap. When it comes down to it, the filmmaking here is symptomatic of this reboot’s most prominent problem. That is, the impulse to do a darker film was a good one. However, that impulse is not executed correctly.
Andrew Cosby’s (Eureka) screenplay here is decent. As well it should be considering that much of the film is taken from four different Hellboy comic arcs: The Wild Hunt (2009), Hellboy in Mexico (2010), The Storm (2010), and The Fury (2011). All of which I thought were nicely adapted. The problem is that the film in review and its aforementioned screenplay could have served as a great adaptation as opposed to a merely decent one. Alas, that impulse to make an R-rated picture resulted in an unnecessarily extreme execution of a movie. Hellboy is an overly-gory and profane movie. So much so that I quickly began to tire of this CG-blood-soaked, F-bomb laden approach after the first act.
The road to Hellboy might’ve been paved with good intentions, but all know how that goes. At best, this movie will feel like purgatory for even the most ardent fans. The needle won’t move one way or the other; you’ll still be stuck with an ultimately unsatisfying flick. I can only recommend Hellboy (2019) to those same fans. But only if you watch the movie at home on a lazy Sunday, with a cigar or a couple of beers. In the meantime, just stay home and read some Hellboy comics!
Hellboy (2019) Is In Theatres Now!