Hellboy is a comic book movie that has already been made. Fifteen years ago, Guillermo del Toro gave us Hellboy, and it was perfectly good, very much like a comic book, not too heavy, but with nice emotional notes, wonderful personalities, and a well-designed and well-executed steampunk visual aesthetic with lots of bespoke weirdness.
That Hellboy (2004) even had a sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which was really just more like a subsequent episode: not as good, but still nicely layered, and again, solid actors, and the whole stimmung already established by del Toro in the first film, a world of shiny-cool old-looking clockwork gear and magic, and vividly-designed characters and creatures.
Boxofficemojo dot com, shows Hellboy II as pulling in almost twice as much cash worldwide as the 2004 film, supporting the theory that moviegoers would have lined up for something like Hellboy III: The Whatever, with Ron Perlman reprising his role as the titular wisecracking demon from Hell found during World War II as the result of a Nazi plot to defeat the Allies via the Occult, and Selma Blair as his pyrokinetic girlfriend, who closed the second film by announcing Hellboy’s demon seed had found purchase in her fiery womb. But Hellboy the Third never got made, years passed, the Earth revolved, glaciers melted into the sea, and now some people are sitting in a mostly-empty theater on a Friday night watching Hellboy (2019).
This new Hellboy movie reboot restarts with Mr. Hellboy working for his adoptive dad at the government’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, doing ghostbusting and stuff, and the new guy playing Hellboy is David Harbour, a decent character actor who plays the sheriff on Netflix’s Stranger Things. His comedic foil is Alice, played by Sasha Lane, who was in a movie with Shia LaBeouf and not much else, but she’s great, as is Harbour, although they go around in shouty circles because the editor of this pigpile probably realized they were the only bright spots between Ian McShane, who brings zero to his part as Hellboy’s government dad except the heavy-lidded look of a dude cashing a tidy paycheck, and the main plot with Milla Jovovich, boringly frowning her way through CGI as the Blood Queen, who got chopped up into pieces by King Arthur so she could be reassembled centuries later and be mad at Hellboy.
So we have a surreal scene featuring traumatic dismemberment, which is unremarkable but takes place in a commonplace dark gray and gloomy ye olde landscape with a creepy tree like they have on Game of Thrones, which has nothing to do with the visual style of Hellboy himself. The look of the Hellboy character—grimy yet colorful and shiny—has survived from the previous two films, but now everything else veers away from it, rather than letting it be the determining cue for the rest of the production design. The film also wants to pile on lots of disgusting and unpleasant visuals and luxuriate in them, defeating the shock value of blood and guts in favor of wallowing in goopy gloppy entrails and rotting revivified corpses, and it wants to expose us to a herd of generic, unimaginatively-drawn creatures, again inhabiting this muddy brown-through-gray color spectrum, rather than the lively palette of the earlier Hellboy films, and the main note for creature design here is repulsive, which brings me to my main complaint out of all the bad special effects choices in this film.
Alice’s paranormal ability is communication with the dead, and the gimmick they employ when she does it is disgusting. It was somebody’s bright idea to have an apparition from the netherworld manifest itself through Alice as being vomited up as a long string of entrails, capped off by the corrupted upper torso of the deceased, which then has the actor’s face superimposed over the whole mess for the speaking part. Again, all it makes you feel is that you just wish the scene would end so you could get back to the movie with Hellboy, who also now has crappy special effects on his weird outsized stone hand. The big hand is preposterous, but it played perfectly in the first two Hellboy flicks. Aren’t movie effects supposed to get better over time? A pointless reboot is bad enough, but how did they switch to an older operating system?