There are many ways for a film to go wrong, and while HELLBOY may not have explored all of them, it has certainly come very close. Dialogue that is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is, editing that teeters between pedestrian and laughable, and a story that is merely an excuse for carnage are the most obvious flaws, though, to be fair, the carnage provides a bracing gl
oss on anatomical structure of the human in disarray. Still, if I had to pick just one thing, I would have to pick incorporating the Arthurian mythos into the proceedings. I can’t think of a film in the last decade with an Arthurian theme that has worked, and here that trend has continued apace before hitting warp speed.
David Harbour assumes the mantle and polled horns of the titular character, and while he has the mass, and the delivery, he is let down by the script at every turn. The cynical quips fall flatter than the monk squished by an impatient giant at the door. One feels for Mr. Harbour because one senses that given the right material, he might have been a worthy successor to Ron Perlman. Alas, here he’s merely a simulacrum of the anti-hero with a soft squishy core. It is, therefore, somewhat fitting that the villain of the piece, Vivian Nimue, aka The Blood Queen, is played by Mila Jovovich in full waxworks mode. She is inert, with a voice droning in a monotone startling only for its punishing consistency. When playing a vengeful witch from the dark ages who has fallen to pieces, literally, one would hope for more vitriol. Or any emotional affect at all.
As for Hellboy, there is a backstory that puts him at odds with his adoptive father (Ian McShane who comes away with his dignity mostly intact), and a reunion with an old Pigboy of a nemesis (voiced with unexpected verve by Stephen Graham), and with the pugnacious Alice (Sasha Lane) the now-grown baby he rescued from the ci-mentioned Pigboy. Alice comes in handy for her ability to talk to the dead, and her ability to channel the recently deceased with an explosion of ectoplasm from her mouth. Major Daimo (Daniel Dae Kim) is thrown in for no readily apparent reason except to give a shout-out to PREDATOR, and to represent a low in Mr. Kim’s career, though to his credit he does try very hard, and with laudable commitment, striking heroic poses and grimacing intently.
This is not an exercise in storytelling as such. It’s a visual effects sizzle reel, and sizzle it does. That Pigboy is the most fully realized character in this mess, and Baba Yaga, a particularly nasty creature from Slavic folklore, is positively mesmerizing in her grotesque contortions, make for a perfect metaphor. The entire plot, such as it is, revolves around an imminent apocalypse (of course it does), and the visualization of that, with Hellboy in full horn topped with a crown of fire is impressive. But is it worth the effort required to sit through the flick in which it appears? And the answer, sadly, is no.
With its English eccentrics in medieval garb, campy encounters with mythical creatures, and a gloriously ramshackle cottage walking across the landscape on chicken legs, HELLBOY is like Monty Python without the humor as it scampers across the British landscape questing in vain for a film worth watching. Keep questing HELLBOY.