★ / ★★★★
There is no doubt about it: Neil Marshall’s “Hellboy” is an exercise in futility. It has no reason to exist other than to make money. The most important difference between this reboot and Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 picture of the same name is that the latter possesses a sense of wonder. It is inviting; we wish to know more about its world not just because of the handful of strange characters on screen but because the material promises that it would provide constant surprises. Here, it is pedestrian right from the opening sequence that unfolds during the Dark Ages all way through an exhausted finale. Closing your eyes for two hours while wide awake is less punishing than having to sit through this rubbish.
The CGI is cheap and ugly. The main villain, a sorceress named Vivian Nimue (Milla Jovovich), has the power to unleash a plague across the world. Look at the unconvincing boils, how the flesh melts right off victims’ faces. They look so fake that it is impossible to feel horrified or disgusted. A combination of masks and cosmetics would have been preferred, but that would have taken longer, you see. Observe the monsters that await her return to power. They all look similar: golem-like, gray, scaly, nearly all a certain height. It is maddening that the film had a budget of fifteen million dollars and yet it does not even bother to make the monsters appear to look different from one another. The stench of the filmmakers’ laziness reeks. The work is in dire need of inspiration.
The title character is played by David Harbour and he has fun with the role. I enjoyed the character’s sarcasm, but there is no depth to him. There is a would-be drama between Hellboy and his father, Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), particularly the former’s discovery that his father was sent to kill him, a demon baby, instead of taking him in to be raised as one of the good guys in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.), but the conflict does not work because there is no convincing foundation in the relationship between father and son. The two feel more like colleagues than family—if that. In addition, while the two actors are good on their own, I felt no chemistry between Harbour and McShane when their characters are required to connect in a meaningful way.
More interesting are supporting characters Ben and Alice (Daniel Dae Kim, Sasha Lane), a secretive member of the B.P.R.D. with military background and a spirit medium, respectively. Like Hellboy and his father, they are not given in-depth background information but the actors have memorable personalities; one can feel them attempting to elevate a material that is dead on arrival. Ben and Alice’s respective abilities, however, are diluted by yet even more visual effects. Every time CGI moves toward the center of the action, it were as if the movie is on a mission to put the audience to sleep. Eventually, gun shootings, skull bashing, and broken limbs go on autopilot.
Notice I have not touched upon the plot. It is because it doesn’t matter. Despite the flashbacks to several hundreds of years ago and heavy narration, the plot is as lifeless as a wooden plank. For instance, in order for the immortal Nimue to reclaim her original power, her severed body parts were locked in boxes and dispersed around the country by King Arthur and his knights. But these boxes are gathered so quickly, tension or suspense is not given a chance to build. Yes, it is inevitable that Nimue will rise again, but the material is still required to try to entertain.
More attention is put on showing people getting cut in half, or impaled, or their brains bashed in. There is blood by the bucketloads, as if it were a horror film. I found it pathetic in its attempt to come across shocking or cool. Its brazen approach to remain subpar is nauseating.