Hellboy (2019)

There’s a lot to unpack in the new Hellboy.  And by “a lot,” I mean what is apparently 25 years worth of comic stories crammed into one excessively long movie that worked hard to earn its R rating for gratuitous…err…I mean graphic violence.

It was a joy to see this movie with some friends of ours who were visiting town, one of whom is a legitimate Hellboy fan.  Thank God for him because were it not for his patient explanation this would be a very different review and I’d be beating off trolls with a stick, not unlike a scene in the movie, only with giants.

First, agree or disagree, I have to say that I am of the opinion that these comic book movies aren’t made exclusively for comic book fans.  They are obviously intended to reach out to a wider audience by introducing them to well-developed characters with a wealth of storylines to draw on over time, sequel after sequel.  This was not the case with Hellboy.

What I mistook as a convoluted, disjointed plot/series of plots was, I am told, actually an attempt to squeeze in I’m guessing around a dozen different side stories into one movie.  The problem is that someone who is lacking a deep and comprehensive foreknowledge of the comic lore is left scratching their heads in baffled confusion.  If the goal was to create an homage to the comic for the fans, then it was met (even if it was sloppy).  If the goal was to create a good film, then they would have been better served to either A) scratch half the ideas so they could concentrate on quality over quantity; or B) launch it on Netflix as an 8-episode story arc that all eventually tied in, but still had the ability to go on a creative walk-about episode by episode, say, similar to what they did with The Chilling Tales of Sabrina.

As a movie, seen by an average movie-goer who’s only introduction to this universe was via the original Ron Perlman version, this reboot is exhausting.  Literally exhausting…as in I fell asleep during part of it.  The inability to hold its viewers’ attention, yay, even their consciousness, is sort of the definition of a bad movie, yet I still feel compelled to defend this one.  The thing is, I have no reason why.

Is it because Hellboy was so badass?  No, because he wasn’t.  He got the shit kicked out of him in every fight scene and never once defeated the person he was up against on his own:  someone else had to save him every time.

Is it because the movie’s just hella cool?  Nope, can’t be that.  The original two looked better, felt better, sounded better and were better written.

Is it because of the cast?  Maybe, but I didn’t even realize that was David Harbour under all that red makeup until after it was over.

Was it the grittiness allowed by its R-rating?  Most definitely not.  They did not take advantage of this opportunity to explore anything more adult than sophomoric CGI gore.

At the end of the day, I think I just liked the fundamental theme that’s central in all Hellboy stories.  There’s something that resonates with me when Hellboy decides each and every day that he wants to be good, even though he isn’t.  As someone who has enjoyed their fair share of cognitive behavioral therapy, I appreciate that it’s easy to just get in a routine defined by one’s nature and forget that you have to choose to walk down a deliberate path to get the most out of life.  My viewing of Hellboy reminded me of that and, on some odd level, could maybe be seen as therapeutic, even if the true value was really just about enjoying a movie with my friends.

So what’s my final verdict on Hellboy?  I actually liken it to Spiderman.  Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spiderman, that is.  It wasn’t really necessary and you can’t just redefine an iconic character by giving him a new girlfriend, a cooler haircut and a different lair, but maybe an even better version will come along soon and, if so, I suspect we’ll all just forget this movie existed.  In the meanwhile, pass the popcorn.


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