17 Apr 2019

At the Movies: Hellboy

From At The Movies, 7:31 pm on 17 April 2019

Without the genius of director Guillermo del Toro, this year's Hellboy reboot is predictable and superficial, says Simon Morris.

Simon Morris: When the first Hellboy came out back in 2004, it was easy to think it might be rubbish.

The gruesome tale of a demon summoned from the Depths of Hell by Nazi scientists, only to be outflanked by a kindly Brit who brings it up as his own son... Well, it was clearly no threat to Pride and Prejudice.

But director Guillermo del Toro and stars John Hurt and Ron Perlman managed a strange thing - to hypnotise audiences into going along with it.

Now, 15 years later, we see roughly the same story but told by someone else - director Neil Marshall, best known for a couple of spectacular Game of Thrones episodes.

But without Guillermo del Toro making those hypnotic gestures we see Hellboy for what it actually is.

Incidentally, don't get too attached to the usually welcome Sophie Okenedo on narration chores…

Sophie's soon out of the picture, making room for David Harbour (a decidedly B-movie version of Satan's teenage brat) and Ian McShane (always a trooper, but without much to march behind here).

The original comic-books, I gather, are based on the alternative history of Ancient Britain - not the Knights of the Round Table bit of the King Arthur tale, but the ghoulies, ghosties and long-legged beasties part.

And from out of the legends comes the evil witch Nimue in search of a partner.

Nimue is played by Mila Jovovich whose entire career seems to have been variations on this, mostly in Resident Evil films.

Hellboy himself is played as an '80s heavy metal album cover, motion-captured by a surly teenager.

Along the way, Hellboy tackles outsize giants, extremely ugly witches and a demon that looks like the top half of a wild boar grafted to the bottom half of an all-in wrestler.

That's Hellboy's job, we're told - wrestling demons.

You can't wrestle demons without a motley crew, and in this case, Hellboy's crew couldn't be more so.

Aside from father figure Ian McShane, there's a teenage girl called Alice and a heavily-scarred Korean officer who occasionally turns into a leopard.

The Big Idea of this Hellboy is the old "nature versus nurture" thing.

Will Hellboy's upbringing by kindly old Professor Broom outweigh his unpromising origins - as a Demon from Hell, remember - and lead to him being a harmless, pizza-scoffing teenager, rather than the Harbinger of the Apocalypse?

Well, I think we know the answer to that one. And director Neil Marshall doesn't seem interested in stirring the plot in any unpredictable direction.

But what this Hellboy gains in the way of visceral, video-game spectacle, it loses as far as any engagement with the characters or anything like a plot.

A genius like Guillermo del Toro could give the illusion there was more to Hellboy than met the eye.

Without him, all you've got is what meets the eye... not enough.

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