“I’d appreciate a prophecy with more relatable stakes.” — Hellboy (David Harbour).
People who have waited patiently since 2008 for Guillermo del Toro’s promised sequel to Hellboy: The Golden Army and the concluding chapter of his trilogy need wait no longer.
It will never be made.
It doesn’t matter why. The 2008 financial collapse drying up investment money for years? The Golden Army’s mediocre international gross? Del Toro’s incredibly busy schedule prepping for films that he ultimately left such as The Hobbit? Or a perfect storm of reasons including but not limited to all of the above?
In any case, Universal chose instead to reboot the franchise, with David Harbour (Netflix’s Stranger Things) succeeding Ron Perlman as Hellboy and Neil Marshall succeeding del Toro as director.
It’s a loss to fans of the franchise and to cinephiles in general. Del Toro’s two films aren’t just well-made adventure films — they’re works of art, with Perlman in the role he was born to play, humanizing a demon from Hell itself who’s decided the circumstances of his birth will define neither his character nor his destiny.
I dutifully avoided trailers for this movie — as I try to do for most films nowadays — yet went in with the preconceived and admittedly irrational idea that I was going to hate it because I resented its very existence as a kind of sacrilege against del Toro’s films. Maybe that’s why I discovered that, while it is pretty bad, I could still endure it, if only barely.
Don’t misunderstand. There’s an awful lot that I don’t like. I’m not happy with the redesign of the Hellboy makeup. Even though following the same concept, it’s cruder, not allowing Harbour to be as expressive as Perlman. The story, almost a rehash of the basic plot of The Golden Army — supernatural being decides co-existence with the human race isn’t worth it and resolves to clean up Earth by exterminating the pests — is more episodic with less fluidity, kind of like the Roger Moore-era James Bond movies, lacking the smoother flow of del Toro’s films, and there are times when I believe Marshall needs another shot or two to give his editor. The entire film seems designed more for gore and bloodshed than the lyrical beauty of del Toro’s imaginative universe. And I would have resisted the impulse to include a restaging of Hellboy’s origin, because I’ve already seen it done better.
But the greatest sin is the almost complete lack of relationships between the characters. Individually, I kind of like Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim as Hellboy’s sidekicks, but they don’t even begin to relate to each other or to Harbour the way Selma Blair, Rupert Evans, and Doug Jones related to Perlman. While I’m always happy to see Ian McShane, I don’t love him as Hellboy’s adoptive dad the way I loved the late John Hurt. And, despite a valiant try, Mila Jovovich, as The Blood Queen tired of human cockroaches, inspires none of the sympathy Luke Goss elicited as the villain in The Golden Army — if a villain’s what he actually was.
Still, while the new Hellboy never achieves the visual grandeur of del Toro’s films, there are some highly inventive sets, costumes, and creature designs, with Marshall resisting CGI as much as he can in favor of practical effects. He achieves some admirable results, especially the disturbing witch Baba Yaga and the comic relief of the changeling Gruagach. There are a few amusing sequences, especially Hellboy’s fight with three giants in the English countryside, and his encounter with the above-mentioned Baba Yaga. Then there’s Harbour. No, he’s not Perlman, — no more than Zachary Quinto is Leonard Nimoy — but who is?
All the things I was afraid I wouldn’t like I was exactly right about. Nevertheless, Marshall’s reboot of Hellboy was at least moderately entertaining, but I question if that’s enough to generate a sequel. If so, Lionsgate needs to give Marshall, director of one my favorite werewolf movies, Dog Soldiers, as well as some of the more popular episodes of TV’s Game of Thrones, a budget sufficient to get those missing shots — and maybe even allow him to return to del Toro’s fairy tale wonder.
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