Written by Chad Derdowski
I was tempted to start this review by talking about how the filmmakers had an uphill climb when rebooting Hellboy, as it would inevitably be compared to the previous films and Guillermo del Toro’s singular vision. In fact, I was four paragraphs deep into an explanation of how this interpretation of the world Mike Mignola created was as unique and separate from its predecessors as the two men who portrayed the title character. I even made a comparison to Hamlet, as David Harbour does in the behind-the-scenes features included in the extras on the Blu-ray release. After all, there have been many different productions of Hamlet over the years and a countless number of interpretations. We don’t compare them, do we? We accept each one as it’s own thing and judge it by its own merits. And even though I had a pretty decent joke lined up about my wife insisting that it was Ron Perlman on the cover of the Blu-ray package, I have decided to forgo any analogy, contrast, or connection and simply review the film on its own merits, as it should be.
(But for those of you interested, I’m pretty much positive that I’ll do all that other stuff at some point by the end of the review anyway, so just keep reading.)
Okay, I’m gonna throw some ideas at you here: 1970s vans with wizards, half-naked barbarian ladies and dragons airbrushed on them, Gwar, Basil Wolverton’s Mad Magazine illustrations, Rob Zombie, lucha libre, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Bernie Wrightson. Do you see where I’m going with this? If you can’t somehow marry these visions, maybe you shouldn’t even bother watching the new Hellboy – it’s probably not for you. However, you may find solace surfing the web while your friends or significant other watch the movie, occasionally looking up at the screen to comment on how fake that CGI blood looks or how “now they’re just being gross for the sake of being gross.” And you’d be right on both counts.
But if you can imagine putting all of those strange and disparate pieces together to somehow form an uneven but cohesive unit, you may want to pack up the bong and sit down for an evening with Hellboy, a film that features piles of skulls, shotguns loaded with angel bones, lots of pentagrams, severed goat heads, and copious amounts of spattered blood and gristle. It’s a movie that owes as much to Sam Raimi or Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit comics as it does to Eastern European folklore and all the while totally feels 100% like the kind of movie that Milla Jovovich would star in.
Probably because Milla Jovovich does star in this movie. But you know exactly what I mean and don’t pretend that you don’t. And Jovovich is pretty cool in this movie, throwing out lines like “We will baptize this world in blood” or “A demon sleeps inside you and I will awaken it!” with all the rage and fury you’d expect from a reincarnated witch who has spent the past few centuries with each of her severed limbs scattered across the globe, locked in enchanted boxes, and then sewn back together by a gaggle of gnarly-looking witches. At least, I think that was the deal; I won’t lie, folks. I might’ve missed a few important points because I was talking to my wife a little bit during this movie as she perused various social media apps on her phone, only pausing to occasionally throw out a comment about how fake the CGI looked or how it was just gross for the sake of being gross and for god’s sake, if they didn’t want us to compare it to the other movies, they shouldn’t have cast Ron Perlman. It’s not Ron Perlman; that’s just the way Hellboy looks!
But I digress. And while we’re on the topic of performances, can I mention that David Harbour knocks it out of the park? His Hellboy is totally likable and down to earth, with just the right touch of crass to ground the whole production and make this outlandish fantasy world feel real. Hellboy might be the offspring of a demon and a mortal woman, but he feels like the bastard child of John Goodman and Jack Burton. You’ll roll your eyes, but still follow him to Hell and back so you can crack open a beer on the couch when you’re done. And yes, there’s probably an old afghan draped over the couch.
And even though I’m totally not making comparisons to other films and I wouldn’t dream of disrespecting any legendary and award-winning actors, I have to admit that I found this version of Hellboy to be much more suited to my tastes. He’s less of a petulant and annoying teenager and more just a regular dude, immature but still adult. And he has a tail. Anyway, it’s apples and oranges and we don’t compare different versions of Hamlet; we just admit that they bring completely different things to the table and we can like them both or just agree to disagree. But seriously, Harbour is super awesome and should be lauded not only for his ability to deliver lines like “This shit has gone way past too far!” with gusto, managing to be a badass with an amazing sense of comedic timing, but also for the way he makes you feel for this poor dude who is cast in an unlikely role, ill equipped to act, with insufficient tact. And yes, now I’m quoting Rush songs. And like the protagonist of “Limelight”, Hellboy certainly puts up barriers to keep himself intact, all of which comes through in Harbour’s performance.
And while I’m not making comparisons, I’ll mention that this vision of Hellboy actually felt more like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, as opposed to Hellboy-filtered-through-the-jaw-droppingly-amazing-and-stunningly-beautiful-visual-style-of-someone-else. And even if I did compare, we could agree that it’s okay to like them both for different reasons. Steeped in Eastern European folklore as well as Hellboy’s own history and origins, this film references and recreates scenes from various comics and manages to build a vast and recognizable world in the span of two hours. It’s a world in which secret societies hunt giants and demons in trenchcoats are common. It’s a film which opens with a battle between an ancient witch and the Knights of the Round Table during the Dark Arges and transitions into a scene in a modern-day Tijuana wrestling ring featuring a vampire luchador, and all of it makes perfect sense.
Or it doesn’t, if that’s not your thing. Which is fine – you could probably file Hellboy in the “Well, you just like, didn’t get it, dude.” drawer of your personal film reviews, as it is definitely the type of movie that may not have wowed a lot of critics or made any money at all, but will certainly find its audience over time. But the concept of monster luchadores pretty much sums up the entire mood of this movie and if you enjoy libraries with secret doorways, decrepit supernatural beings who live in old houses that sit upon chicken legs (you heard me), and Alice Cooper, you might want to give it a shot. If your artistic philosophy is “When in doubt, make it super gross”, then Hellboy will have something to offer you. If you liked that opening montage from Watchmen and wouldn’t mind seeing an entire movie that sort of looks like that, maybe the new Hellboy is your thing. But if you’re not into seeing the undead rise from their graves while tons of maggots spill out of their rotten, empty eye sockets, you’ll probably want to fire up that smart phone and start surfing the ‘net. I’m sure something about this movie will eventually grab your attention.
Set for release July 23, the Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo release also features the aforementioned behind-the-scenes look at the movie and a handful of deleted scenes. It’s the standard stuff you get with just about any movie these days: a few interviews with the cast and crew, a look at previsualizations, and a few sentences from the sculptors and folks in charge of design. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re buying or renting this one, but probably not the kind of thing that will make or break this purchase.