Hellboy review: David Harbour shines in a messy reboot


The Right Hand of Doom returns to the big screen in a reboot that attempts to feel like Hellboy, but too often tries to Hollywoodize the story being told.

Directed by Neil Marshall, Hellboy adapts the stories “The Wild Hunt” and “The Storm and The Fury,” which follows Hellboy (David Harbour) attempting to track down The Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), before she can regain her strength. Along the way, Hellboy meets Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) and rekindles a relationship with Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) who help him on his quest.

The road to get to this rebooted version of Hellboy has been nothing but turmoil. First starting off as the trilogy capper for Guillermo Del Toro’s vision and then transitioning to a reboot, it was nothing short of a frustrated development. That said, at first it seemed like this film would be more akin to the comics than Del Toro’s previous two films, which were good Del Toro films, but not great Hellboy films. The final product, though, leaves a lot to be desired on that front, resulting in more a mixed bag than anything.

David Harbour owns the role of Hellboy

The one thing that can unequivocally be said positively about this is David Harbour’s performance as Hellboy. He’s honestly perfect casting for the role. He manages to do so much with often so little and under so much heavy prosthetic that it’s shocking that he can portray any emotion at all. Every time he’s on screen, your eyes will just be pulled toward him simply because he demands your attention.

The most striking thing about Harbour’s performance, though, is his ability to strike a middle ground between the comics version of Hellboy and Ron Perlman’s portrayal. Harbour finds that sweet spot of gruff and weary that permeates that character in the comics, but also the more humorous take that Perlman had previously. It’s a nice balance that gives the character a bit more charm and charisma than other iterations have.

Milla Jovovich also holds her own with Harbour, albeit in a much different way. Jovovich’s performance as Nimue much of the time feels very campy, like something out of an ’80s fantasy film, but yet, it works in this film. She plays the campiness just right to where it seems like she’s gone insane and doesn’t fully remember how to emote or even speak after her imprisonment. It’s like she’s forcing herself to talk, so while it feels campy at times, it does so in an oddly satisfying way.

The horror sticks the landing

Hellboy originally made its name as a gothic horror style of book that also mixed in Lovecraftian horror as an underlying thread, so it’s great to see that gothic horror make a return here. This is when the film is at its best, when it plays up the horror.

Every time Hellboy is in a dimly lit room with shadows all around and another creature involved, the film is at its best. It’s too bad the film doesn’t commit wholly to this vision because it would’ve made for a much more interesting film. There’s one scene in particular that feels so perfect for Hellboy to be in, and if you don’t have chills running down your spine, that’ll be shocking.

The only problem with the horror aspects of this film is the gore. Sometimes the CGI is very lacking when it comes to the gore. It doesn’t look great, and other times it just feels gratuitous. There are plenty of times where the gore is very much needed and effective, but others where it isn’t and is too plentiful, especially in the third act.

Bad choices for adaptation

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The fact that “The Wild Hunt” and “The Storm and The Fury” were the basis for this adaptation of Hellboy should raise red flags. No reboot, or first story with a new version of the character, should be based on what is essentially the finale of the Hellboy title before Hellboy in Hell. It’s just ludicrous to think that story would work without the proper set-up. The reason those stories are so effective is the time spent with Hellboy before the end times, but by having it as the first story in this universe, it rips out almost all meaning from the story.

It honestly feels like these story and adaptation choices were from the development of Del Toro’s final film in his trilogy, and the producers were too lazy or didn’t care enough to actually change the story to bring about a proper reboot.

Plus, the film attempts to wrap in Hellboy’s birth as well, which doesn’t need to be in here. The film tries to make it relevant, but what the movie is trying to say wouldn’t change if they didn’t have his birth scene. It really just makes the film feel more bloated than it already is. There are plenty of things that will make Hellboy fans smile and get excited about, but a lot of the time it feels like the movie is doing too much.

An editing catastrophe

By far, the worst aspect of this film is the editing. There is so much wrong with the editing throughout that it really feels like Neil Marshall was bombarded by studio notes. The movie is incredibly fast-paced, way too fast-paced at times, and it really feels that Marshall was given a strict runtime to adhere to, which causes so many scenes to feel rushed throughout.

There’s also the problem that almost every transition from the traditional gothic horror of Hellboy, which are easily the best parts, to the more mundane reality is accompanied by an upbeat alt-rock guitar riff. It gets very annoying after a while. As mentioned above, this just feels like studio executives forcing in these elements to appeal to the lowest common denominator, which is ultimately to the detriment of the film. And apparently, Marshall didn’t have final cut rights over the film, among other problems on set, so all of these discordant issues make complete sense when taking that into context. It doesn’t make things better, but that knowledge makes the issues throughout the film make more sense.

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Sadly, Hellboy doesn’t stick the landing with this reboot, but more adventures with David Harbour’s Anung Un Rama wouldn’t be unwelcome, as long as a more deliberate story is involved.