The various gears, moving parts and materials which allow the engine of a film to find its rhythm can be elusive. Director Guillermo Del Toro tried twice to bring Hellboy to life, yet I felt there was room for improvement. Actually, there's a soul of electricity behind this character which if ignited or properly moulded empowers comedy to lighten the tension. As such, I would argue the case for director Neil Marshall conquering the basic translation while paying the fan service required. With the 2019 reboot, we're not just talking gothic horror as the detective mystery, morality tale and action thriller join forces.
The plot: Big Red seems predestined to fall under the spell of Nimue (the luminous Milla Jovovich). She has travelled far since playing Christian Slater's girlfriend in Kuffs. For Hellboy, she could have rendered a stock villain. However, there's an extraodinary transformation in pursuit of her destiny. On some level, we empathize. Even though she plagued mankind during the fifth Century, she was stopped in her tracks by one man. Ultimately, this Blood Queen won't rest in peace as inhuman forces are keen on her return and the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Both the 2004 Hellboy and its Oscar nominated sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army came across as man-child creations; some wish fulfillment package undelivered. The pacing felt off too. Meanwhile, Marshall and editor Martin Bernfeld were keen to get this right. It's the difference between losing a subplot and gaining those extra beats which pay off a transition. In fact, the flashbacks were expertly massaged into the main narrative because they don't feel like the ordinary type. These were visions tied to the main character like his oversized right mitten.
David Harbour chose not to imitate Ron Perlman. The latter made a fair impression despite dull, ineffectual dialogue. To his advantage, Harbour got to utter Andrew Cosby's crackerjack one-liners, and there are so many funny moments beyond the trailer. It feels like a role shaped very particularly for this actor. Meanwhile, he reacts to the various demons and giants not as someone overcome by green screen fever but as a meaningful presence. Previews nicely showcased the bit where he's mistakenly fired upon by one of the good guys. Good spontaneity there.
As a comic book fan, I found myself giddy with relish over the three-on-one battle Hellboy has against three giants. This could be my favourite sequence of 2019. While not wanting for gore, this proves to be smarter than Lucio Fulci's stubborn excesses. The latter went beyond absurdity into the realm of fetish. No matter how sticky the bloodletting, the editing in Hellboy engenders surprise on multiple levels. Bernfeld tells the story, allowing humour to soften any jarring effect. Did I mention that Ian McShane was first-rate as always?
Testing gothic might and apocalyptic suspense, composer Benjamin Wallfisch found them to be allies rather than blood born enemies. For my full review of Wallfisch's soundtrack, click here.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for strong bloody violence and gore throughout and language.)