Okay, let’s get the giant, red, horned elephant in the room out of the way before we dig into this review: There were two really good (hey, I enjoyed the second one) Hellboy movies featuring Ron Perlman and directed by Guillermo del Toro that preceded this one. They had a nice blend of humor, action, and paranormal fun that made the comics (and their characters) so beloved. If the internet is to be believed, fans of the series and Perlman himself were ready for a third go-round.
Well, we got a third movie, sans Perlman and del Toro, and unfortunately, it shows.
David Harbour (you know him as the sheriff in Stranger Things) does an admirable job trying not to walk in Perlman’s shoes while attempting to remain true to the character of Hellboy himself. Unfortunately, Perlman did such a good job in those previous films, Harbour’s work is undone in the effort. In this movie, Hellboy simply “is” – there’s no characterization, nothing endearing about him, and it pretty much comes off as David Harbour in a Hellboy suit screaming, mumbling, or grunting his lines. Jokes fall flat, lines go nowhere, and he never really looks comfortable in the role. Almost as if he knows he’s going against what – and who – came before him.
It doesn’t help that Harbour is undone by a lackluster effects/makeup crew in desperate need of a continuity expert. Hellboy’s horn stumps seem to travel around his forehead, occasionally showing different colorizations and positions. Particularly damning is one scene where the horn material gives way as he “shaves” himself.
The supporting cast does its best with what they’re given. It’s fun watching Ian (Lovejoy) McShane chew up scenery, although his delivery seems like he was giving the crew one take only to get his lines down, so it’s not always apparent who he’s addressing. Daniel Dae Kim is a welcome addition to any cast, but as with the titular character, he’s done in by clichés (the angry partner who doesn’t want to work with the main guy) and a particularly bad bit of CGI toward the end. Thomas Haden Church steals every scene he’s in as Lobster Johnson, forcing me to wonder if they couldn’t possibly give us a movie about him next time instead of trying to continue this franchise.
The plot attempts to weave together stories from several books in the comic series, but it becomes such a mixture and mess as threads come and go and are introduced well into the third act that I kind of wished they’d just called it “Hellboy Goes to England” and thrown a couple musical numbers in. The movie isn’t without its moments, though – the action sequences and fights are really well done and when Hell is literally raised, the monsters look straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Unfortunately, they come too few and far between – and too late – to save the film. Moments of greatness don’t make for a great movie overall.
This version of Hellboy stands up as the straight-to-DVD version of what came before it, and it might find better life there. It’s not a horrible movie, by any stretch, but it does not hold up against its predecessors. Lackluster performances, jokes and lines seemingly phoned in, and an effects crew that teeters between laughable and brilliant overweigh solid action sequences and too-short appearances from more interesting characters. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool Hellboy fan, there’s no compelling reason not to wait for this to show up on Netflix.