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Why “Hellboy” Didn’t Work


Neil Marshall’s latest film, “Hellboy,” was released this past Friday to near universal disdain from critics. As of the writing of this article, “Hellboy” sits comfortably at a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

As a fan of the original Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman films, I went into viewing the 2019 film with optimism. The initial marketing campaign enforced the idea that this gritty, R-rated version of Hellboy, as portrayed by Stranger Things’ David Harbour, was the exact reboot that fans were hoping for. Unfortunately, as fans and critics alike would testify, this was not the case in the final film.

So, what went wrong?

Terrible Pacing

Throughout “Hellboy,” the audience is given an onslaught of scenes that lack any sort of flow, between unnecessary title cards that appear onscreen for a few frames, ridiculously quick cuts that make it difficult to take in what’s happening on screen, and a general sense that there was too much crammed into a two hour window. It felt as though several scenes were shot specifically for the purpose of making a great trailer, and the first twenty minutes look like multiple trailers hastily cut together.

Lousy CGI

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the computer generated visual effects were largely underwhelming for a big-budget superhero film. It’s almost identical to the complaints viewers had about 2018’s “Venom, essentially having the equivalent of PS2 graphics in place of modern day CGI. The biggest shame in the visual elements of the film is the clear potential that was wasted: the prosthetics used, specifically in the creation of Harbour as Hellboy, were fantastic, and reminiscent of del Toro’s run at the original franchise.

A Two-Dimensional Villain

While Milla Jovovich is always a joyous presence onscreen, her portrayal of the Blood Queen left much to be desired. As with many of the other elements that led to this film being a letdown, Jovovich’s character showed the potential of being an interesting villain, but came off as having the primary motivation of being evil for the sake of being evil.

Unnecessary Exposition

This is more of a standard Hollywood trope that “Hellboy” is another unfortunate victim of. Throughout the film, we are treated to narration that could have easily been replaced by the actions of characters, and characters revealing information about each other that made no sense in the context of the film.

Overcomplicated Mythology

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the film was the lengths it went to for interconnectivity. While the viewer understands that Hellboy is the protagonist, it is made painfully clear that the entire film revolves around him, with random character connections made seemingly just to cram this idea down the audience’s collective throat. Beyond this, the efforts of the writer to add in English mythology in the form of King Arthur and Merlin served no purpose, and only made the film’s runtime significantly longer.

Final Thoughts

While the film suffered from a number of issues, the least of which being its writing, it is still fun for the comic book fan and casual viewer. While much of the humor fell flat, the production itself suffered from a limited timeframe and poor editing, and several parts of the script clearly didn’t come out as intended, there were several actually enjoyable moments that showed what the film could have been, under the right supervision.

Harbour’s portrayal of Hellboy was easily the best part of the film, and he alone gives the film its only real redeeming value. Unfortunately, the best scene of the film comes in a fight within the last few minutes that hints at a sequel that will likely never be greenlit.

BU Alumnus, Mass Communications and Political Science degree holder. Former Editor for the News/Politics section of BUnow, advisor for video productions, co-host of the Utterly Nonsense Podcast and BUnow Weekly Politicast.