Thursday, 18 April 2019

Review: Hellboy (2019)

Cert: 15 / 121 mins / Dir. Neil Marshall / Trailer

Hang on, I thought we'd all agreed to stop putting King Arthur in movies for the next hundred years or so? It doesn't work. We know it doesn't work*1. And it especially doesn't work when you open your movie with Ian McShane grasping the mantle handed to him by the departure of dear John Hurt, the faux-gravitas of his acerbic voiceover setting the scriptual bar at a clunkingly low level before stepping into the shoes of Professor Broom, erstwhile father-figure to David Harbour's Hellboy.

Born in the latter days of the Second World War from a crazed Nazi experiment to attain victory by channelling the forces of the netherworld, an infant demon has been raised to adulthood by Broom and the Bureau For Paranormal Research And Defense, now an agent for the organisation where he assists in keeping the world safe from unspeakable terrors. So far, so much like the previous two movies. But this relative harmony is shattered by the return of the Blood Queen, Nimue (Mila Jovovich), dismembered and scattered by King Arthur centuries earlier, but being gradually re-assembled for reanimation by her loyal henchman, Gruagach (Stephen Graham). Because, as with so many resurgent tyrants, she's coming back to ensure humanity's destruction...


And it's even sillier than you'd imagine, somehow. As noted above, the film does not get off to a good start. Andrew Cosby's screenplay is clunky, preposterous and without a cast who can really carry off most of it. That said, within ten minutes Hellboy is all-in battling an errant demon at a Mexican wrestling match while Scorpions' Rock You Like A Hurricane plays over the top. If that's not a signpost for the weapons-grade silliness to follow, nothing is. Of course, it's at this point that the casual viewer may well think 'hang on, this has gone full 'Dusk Till Dawn' incredibly early - where is there to go from here?' The answer comes in the metaphorical form of director Neil Marshall pointing at a dial and saying "...but this film goes up to 11".

Despite this full-on action being activated from the off, the film's first act suggests that there's not really enough 'new' content here to justify a full cinematic reboot for the franchise (although it was initially slated to be an in-universe prequel). Without Guillermo Del Toro's melancholy touch*2, Hellboy becomes Kingsman-meets-Nightbreed. And it turns out the differently-labelled bottle that no one asked for is the tonic we all needed.


It's difficult to un-learn Ron Perlman's anti-hero but Harbour makes this interpretation his own in short order, giving a surprisingly rounded turn (for this film) as a character with a demon's body, a hero's responsibilities and very human limitations. McShane barks his way through the script as only he can, yet he's still like Laurence Olivier compared to Milla Jovovich, gnawing her way through the scenery in full pantomime-mode. The plot structure is by now par for the course with this sort of thing, and scripting issues continue way past the opening scene-setting. It's unclear how much of this is inherent to a property which carries its corniness with more sincerity on the printed page.

But when the talking's over and it's time for action, Hellboy is good fun. Bloody good fun (and often very bloody). Perhaps more fun than someone like Guillermo knows how to have, in all honesty. It's a movie made by someone who seems to genuinely not care what the critics think; which is either the ultimate in artistic purity, or a staggering lack of self-awareness. Possibly both.


Basically a live-action horror cartoon, Hellboy is unapologetically schlocky. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will depend almost entirely on the viewer. Despite the many words which will be written about Marshall's project (including these), it's a film which boldly defies critical appraisal. Acutely aware of how daft it is and just not caring anyway. And is all the better for that. Marshall and Cosby initially do a solid enough job of starting things in medias res, with backstory left for the viewer to pluck from between the heavy-handed lines of conversation.

As things move on however, it becomes clear they're both buggers for an expository flashback, taking 'show-don't-tell' to startling new levels of superfluousness. They also absolutely adore a casual fuck-bomb. Hellboy more than earns its hard 15 certificate on the language alone, the vast majority of which is delivered with a very British facetiousness that may well pass over the heads international audiences*3.

Your humble correspondent went into this with no real baggage, struggled with its unwieldy nature, yet found himself grinning like an idiot by the third act. Mötley Crüe playing over a laboratory shoot-out? Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Embrace the ridiculousness and it's one hell of a ride. There are industrial amounts of sequel-baiting going on, including mid- and end-credit stingers, but that's okay - a movie's got to at least try and leave its options open.

2019's Hellboy is demonstrably not a great film. And it's still the most gleefully excessive fun I've had in the cinema this year…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Oh, Drive Angry. Fuck yeah.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Well, me and about five other people on the planet think so.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
With the best will in the world, see this BIG or don't bother.
As much as I love it, I'm not sure how it'll translate to the small screen

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I can't call that one. I absolutely loved Marshall's Dog Soldiers back in the day, but have to admit that it's not aged well.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well it's looking that way, isn't it?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, but there's a shit-ton of screaming going on here, so I may well have missed it. Yet at the same time, a movie like Hellboy would wear a Wilhelm on its sleeve proudly, so let's go with 'no'.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well, there's a definite Taun-taun reference when they're at the chip shop, but also General Draven is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, I just didn't go to see The Kid Who Would Be King, recently. Heard nothing but good things about it, yet every time I sat through the trailer in a cinema I could feel my ulcer loosening its belt another notch. That film looks custom-designed to annoy me and I see no reason to confirm that it fulfils its remit. [ BACK ]

*2 While I don't actively dislike his work, Guillermo Del Toro is basically Tim Burton for film-snobs. There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*3 One of the film's low-key standouts is where Gruagach - the seven foot tall boar-headed demon with a thick Scouse accent who uses the fuck-word as punctuation - offers Nimue the Blood Queen some actual Jaffa Cakes. Fantastic stuff. This is hands-down the best product placement since Seabrook Crisps rocked up in The Fast & The Furious. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment