Guillermo del Toro’s two Hellboy films were passion projects with a very clear and consistent vision. del Toro’s dark fairytale style matched very cohesively with the characters and stories he brought to life, and what resulted were modern fantasy films with a very striking and cohesive aesthetic, sustained and unique tone, and cast that gelled together very well. The films felt effortless in how well all their elements melded together to create such focused experiences that felt like worlds unto themselves.
This 2019 Hellboy film’s director, Neil Marshall, has the horror background and strength in action that if we were to be stuck with the bizarre case of a reboot while all the players from del Toro’s films wanted to make a third film, that he would at least create something well-founded, if different. But what actually resulted…even setting aside the extensive reports of production dramas, the central conceits of the film just don’t work. Those production dramas were presumably responsible for some of the more egregious monstrosities of the film (the onslaught of terrible one-liners ADR’d onto characters with their backs turned, the sloppy editing, the confusing structure with plot elements popping out of nowhere with no foundation), but at its core the plodding episodic structure, the painful lead performance (David Harbour roars out all his lines basically at the same cadence, and elongating the vowels to a grating degree), and the over-reliance on gore just all add up to a terrible experience from the get-go.
Some of the monster designs are quite good. Milla Jovovich comes out of the film the most unscathed, delivering a performance that somehow actually attuned to the tone of the film and worked. Ian McShane and Sasha Lane do what they can with their thin characters. But what an utter mess. The post-credit scenes felt outright torturous. The entire lore here feels like such a tired genre runaround that you’d never know how uniquely and strikingly realised it could be in better hands. One and a half horns, and a very convenient sword.