Hellboy (2019) Full of Splatter and Spectacle, But Not Much More

It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Mike Mignola’s comic book creation, Hellboy, first came to the big screen in a live action film, starring Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) as the big red demonic superhero with Guillermo del Toro directing. It made enough money to spawn a sequel four years later, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, as well as a couple of straight to video animated movies, but by 2008 the franchise seemed deader than the reanimated corpses that populated Hellboy’s world.

And yet, here we are in 2019 with a new Hellboy movie, simply called Hellboy, ready to reboot the franchise for a new generation of comic book movie fans and, hopefully, those who remember loving the old movie and still read Mignola’s magnificent source material. Given the glut of superhero movies filling theaters these days, it’s a risky move because unlike the extremely photogenic heroes of the Marvel and DC movie universes, Hellboy isn’t pretty in any sense of the word. He’s big, red and rude with a penchant for dispatching some pretty ugly bad guys by any means necessary, and if that entails ripping them in half so their entrails spill across the screen, so be it.

It’s an attitude that director Neil Marshall (The Descent) and his cast embrace wholeheartedly for the 2019 Hellboy and while it may shock fans who like their comic book movie heroes with a dash of camera-ready glamour, it’s a thrill for those who know when a bad guy gets punched, he should bleed. And when he’s punched by the enormous red stone right hand of Hellboy, he should bleed a lot.

The new Hellboy starts with a flashback to medieval times where King Arthur and Merlin are trying to stop the evil Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) from releasing a plague that could wipe out mankind. They succeed and, to make sure the immortal witch doesn’t try anything like that again, Arthur uses Excalibur to cut her into pieces, then he packs the pieces into wooden casks, binds them shut with iron chains and a Merlin curse before hiding them in various locations across the kingdom.

The film then jumps back to present day where Hellboy (David Harbour) is in Tijuana to rescue a fellow Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) agent who went missing while on a mission to investigate a vampire infestation in Mexico. This leads to a La Lucha wrestling scene that doesn’t make any sense but is a lot of fun to watch and eventually gives Hellboy the nugget of plot he needs to bring back to BPRD headquarters so the real story can begin. And, of course, that story is all about getting Hellboy and the Blood Queen together so they can do battle over the fate of mankind. Along the way, the big red guy will battle giants and enter into a rather disgusting contract with a witch called Baba Yaga (voiced by Emma Tate and athletically performed by Troy James). He will also pick up a couple of new partners, including a clairvoyant young girl named Alice (Sasha Lane) and a cop/soldier named Diamio (Daniel Dae Kim) whose belligerent hatred for all things supernatural eventually proves to be based in more than a little self-loathing. Hellboy will also spend a lot of time with his adoptive ‘father’, Professor Broom (Ian McShane), who is in charge of the BPRD.

It’s a plot that doesn’t stand up to a lot of scrutiny, but the movie has enough energy and action to keep you from thinking about it too deeply. The battle between Hellboy and the giants is particularly rousing and, coming relatively early in the film sets the bar pretty high for things to come in terms of blood, gore and body count. Hellboy 2019, unlike the movies set in the Marvel and DC universes, is rated R and rightly so. It’s not for young kids. There won’t be any cute toys given away with a Happy Meal and while there is an occasional bad word uttered over the course of the film, the rating is there to keep impressionable young minds from being freaked out when the guts start to spill.

There is more to Hellboy than splatter and spectacle, but not much more. And that’s just fine. In his first outing as the demon, Harbor does a pretty good job of making the monstrous Hellboy his own; no easy task given the fantastic job Perlman did bringing the creature to life back in 2004. He has some funny lines but doesn’t deliver them like he knows they’re funny, which is a nice twist, and he has a way of using his facial expressions to get a point across, no small achievement given the amount to prosthetic makeup covering his mug. Unfortunately, the film never really slows down enough to let Harbor stretch out and develop the character to any depth. The same goes for the two sidekicks he picks up along the way, although Lane’s performance as Alice rises above the sometimes scanty material to become something more memorable.

As Hellboy’s dad, McShane isn’t given much more to do than provide expository dialogue to help readers get over the rough spots in the plot, but, being Ian McShane, he does it with great style. Even at the end when he’s more CGI effect than a live actor, McShane delivers his lines in such a spellbinding fashion you totally forget the way he looks when he delivers them.

Jovovich does her best to rise above the written material to give the Blood Queen a presence the script doesn’t really support. And she almost pulls it off. Her battle of words with Hellboy, where the Blood Queen tries to convince him to embrace his demon side and join her in destroying mankind, is thought provoking because of the way she says it and not necessarily the words she says. One can’t help but long for a little more screen time with the Blood Queen so Jovovich could shine a little brighter.

  • John Black, Hellboy
John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.