Netflix UK film review: Hellboy (2019)
Ivan Radford | On 29, Dec 2019Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich
Watch Hellboy online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Ever since Guillermo del Toro’s masterful two films starring Ron Perlman, it’s been impossible to imagine Hellboy being played, or made, by anybody else. David Harbour, though, manages the impossible with this brash reboot, stepping into those big red shoes with charisma, humour and a fine line in tough-talking sarcasm.
The premise is the same as the Mike Mignola graphic novel: Hellboy is a demon who came into our world courtesy of a Nazi occult ceremony in 1994, but was raised and trained by a secret group to be on humanity’s side and help battle the forces of evil. This new incarnation takes its lead from several different elements of the comics to introduce another back-story: that of Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a Blood Queen with a thirst for vengeance. Killed back in Arthurian days and scattered across the country, she’s slowly been reassembled from her various parts, so now, it’s up to Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to stop her.
That, of course, means a string of other encounters and showdowns, from giants to zombies and more in between. And with tensions growing between Hellboy and his father-like handler, Professor Brom (Ian McShane), it’s only natural that he should start to question whether he should be teaming up with the unnatural forces rather than the humans who brought him up as a weapon.
That dilemma, and the theme of redeeming one’s soul, has always been key to Hellboy’s philosophy and appeal, but where del Toro’s take on the character surrounded him with the magic of the otherworldly, this version treats the monsters we meet not as creatures of wonder and spectacle but as sources of violence. Neil Marshall directs each set piece with a determination to be as R-rated as possible, leaning into the gruffer, swearier turn by Harbour. Ian McShane, then, makes a fitting replacement for John Hurt as Professor Bloom – the grouchy mentor role is something he can pull off with his eyes closed.
But that slight loss of soul and sympathy is evident in the lack of depth to Hellboy’s sidekicks, with both Sacha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim wasted as Alice and Major Daimio. Marshall is no stranger to gory horror done well and with humour in The Descent and Dog Soldiers, but Andrew Cosby’s script doesn’t give him the material to craft something that feels coherent, with Nimue proving a generic villain and the pacing leaving the string of set pieces bitty rather than exciting. The result is a frustrating and underwhelming reboot of what was once comic book cinema’s most distinctive franchise. David Harbour proves it is possible for Hellboy to be portrayed by somebody else after all – it’s a shame you can’t say the same about the rest of it.
Hellboy (2019) is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.