In 2002, writer/director Neil Marshall created Dog Soldiers, best described as a ‘British Predator’ or ‘one of the best werewolf movies of all time.’ It’s special effects, complete shunning of CGI and brilliant dialogue also rendered it as my favorite film of all time.
This was then followed up with The Descent which people who are into that sort thing have decried as one of the scariest films of all time.
Sadly for his third film we got lumbered with Doomsday which could be described as Mad Max meets Escape From New York via a ton of plot holes, bad effects and complete failure at the box office. Another dud followed and he scuttled off to TV where he’s directed for Black Sails, Game of Thrones and Westworld among others. But with Hellboy (2019) he’s offered a path back to the silver screen. A chance for redemption, a chance to…
make probably the worst superhero film ever.
And I say that with a straight face and no sense of irony.
Now, I don’t normally report on behind the scenes drama because to be honest I don’t care what happens in the kitchen as long as the meal is tasty. And this has to be the worst prepared meal since an old flatmate of mine managed to set fire to pasta. (To this day I still have no idea how he managed it.)
But with stories of the director being over-ridden by producers, actors storming off set, constant re-writes and the firing of Marshalls longtime collaborating cinematographer (allegedly just to show “Who’s boss”).
No wonder Neil Marshall was so allegedly so unhappy with the final cut that he skipped the premiere.
I mean, I fully understand the urge, as I wanted to skip out after the opening prologue which I think could be the cheapest, lowest effort, cliched opening I’ve seen since Lesbian Vampire Killers (naturally starring James @!”@! Corden.)
It sets up your bog standard fantasy story, evil being was stopped back in ye olden days, has come back now to wipe out the human race via some evil scheme (I never was quite able to work out how) and Hellboy is dispatched with the mission brief to: “If Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch.” (Sergeant Harry Wells: Dog Soldiers.)
A very simple plot, done a million times and one that you would think would be nearly impossible to mess up. But life finds a way.
I’ll start with the broad strokes and then get down into the weeds.
This film… it’s just hard to look at. The whole film is just dull and uninteresting visually. If it comes out that this film was all shot on soundstages like Dumbo was, I wouldn’t be surprised. At times it looked like that part of Sin City where that yellow guy was onscreen. Everything is black and white apart from him except that was a deliberate choice on behalf of the director. Here, it just seemed to be a miserable accident. The whole dull color palette means that your eye is drawn to Hellboy even when he’s not what your supposed to be looking it. He’s moving and in color which is enough to catch my eye at least.
As if that wasn’t enough, this film feels really mean spirited. I get that this isn’t a Marvel movie (The CGI isn’t nearly good enough) but this film is full of angry, whining people spouting exposition at each other between graphic CGI fights. There’s no moments of levity or black humor, the closest the film gets is a truly pathetic repeated gag whereupon Hellboy keeps breaking his phone for some unknown reason. And forget about character building! And I know that Marshall can do humor and character development in dark situations because he did it in Dog Soldiers!
Sergeant Harry Wells: [referring to the possibility that he is now a werewolf] With Ryan it only took a couple of hours mate. It’s a full moon. I don’t know, maybe it’s like when you need to take a piss or something, I don’t know. When you gotta go, you gotta fucking go.
Cooper: Yea, well maybe it’s more like needing a shite. Just cos you need one doesn’t mean you drop your kegs and pinch one off.
So, Hellboy thus far is a visually dull, mean spirited film with a plot you’ve seen done a million times before and done a million times better. And…. it’s also time for me to set out my stall before people start getting busy in the comments section. No, I’ve never read an episode of Hellboy and yes, I’m a big fan of the Golden Army because that’s Del Toro being allowed to his thing under the guise of a comic book movie. (The first one is passable but slightly dull.) However, new director, new image, new kitchen and a new flatmate who served me a ‘medium’ curry which forced me to drink everything in a 5 mile radius.
Note to self: No more reviewing films just before lunch.
In short: Each film is treated as it’s own separate thing and the fact that I’m 845 words in and nowhere near done is because this film offends me as someone who loves film. And it didn’t offend just me. I saw this film on opening night in a packed screen – 11 people walked out. And on my way out, every. Single. Person. Was attacking the film for different reasons.
Now, even leaving aside EVERYTHING that I’ve already said, this film was just so episodic. It felt like a series of short films with a loosely interconnecting theme that a film in and of itself. And even THAT’s being generous. Here’s how this film goes. Person meets Hellboy. Person then states that Hellboy is destined to wipe out the world and they’d be doing everyone a favor if they took him out now and hastened the end credits. Person then decides not to for various stupid, pointless reasons, we have what might be called a fight scene if you’ve lived all your life in among pacifist monks and only heard about action from the half remembered tales of infrequent travelers to your monastery.
Look, I get the first fight being an easy win. Especially when your dealing with a character who has powers. The audience needs time to bed in, to understand your strengths and weaknesses, especially if your a lesser known comic book hero but in none of the fights does Hellboy ever seem to be in any danger whatsoever. Even when he’s clearly meant to be in mortal danger it’s never communicated to the audience competently or, just at the moment when it’s starting to settle in, he gets saved by some Deus Ex Machina or the bad guy jut flat out stop attacking him to try to get him to come over to the dark side.
Speaking of the villains, our allegedly Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad villain played by Milla Jovovich (still searching for her first good film in 22 years) who appears to have been given no direction beyond looking pretty and squeezing an imaginary stress ball. I have no idea who could have made this character work, but Jovovich really can’t. She’s backed up by… I think one of the villains from the 1995 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. Except in that movie the pig monsters mouth moved vaguely in time with the soundtrack and here there’s not even an attempt to try that here.
Although if I had an opportunity not to speak the terrible dialogue then I would take it with both hands and a squeal of unmitigated joy.
Look, I’m glad that Deadpool showed us that 15 rated comic book movies could work but that film seemed like it needed to be 15. This… thing feels like it was going to be a 12a and then got bumped up at the last moment forcing all the dialogue to be rewritten by someone who’s only just learned about swear words and has to share this amazing discovery with the world every! Third! Word!
Not too mention that pretty much all of the CGI blood and special effects look like they came from 1998 and maybe this film was supposed to be 3d and they changed it at the last minute? I’ll never know but I’ll be grateful for small mercies if that did get canned due to budgetary restrictions.
In the interests of balance, I do kinda like the Hell creatures and yes, it was funny to see a character from Eastenders firing a gun but these moments were in the trailer and they were the only bits I liked. Or even came close to working.
Which is a shame as there were moments that I could have liked were they actually explored and had a point! An interesting scene with Baba Yaga who was defeated in a previous unseen adventure stands out as a creepy, practical effect driven scene that could have been really effective were it not completely pointless as it could have been replaced by any other character spouting a line of technobabble. I’d have saved it for the hopefully never going to happen.
The CGI looks atrocious, Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii 50)’s English accent is the worst I’ve heard since the original Mary Poppins, the pacing sucks and the films timeline makes no sense. There’s a terrible habit of throwing what are supposed to be plot twists at us but ) there’s no real plot to twist. B) They flash by some quickly there’s no time to take them in and C) I saw all of them bar 1 coming and the one I didn’t see wasn’t foreshadowed in any way shape or form and to anyone who hasn’t read the comics is going to make no sense.
In short- A godawful mess that works on no level and seems to have been a wretched set to work on. Normally i’d offer hints and tips on how to be a better film but for this? Just claim it was a tax write off and then bury the damn thing.
But does that make it the worst comic book movie of all time as some of my more excitable colleagues have claimed?
Say what you will about Batman and Robin, Steel, Howard the Duck, Catwoman, Judge Dredd and Green Lantern but their either fun to sink a few beers to and tear apart or there’s something that shows imagination or a moment that shows what that film could have been.
There’s none of that here.
There is no moment of joy. No moment where you see what could have been or moment of visual wonder. No sense of enjoyment or passion. This is a bad film made in bad circumstances by people who don’t seem to care. It won’t hurt anyone’s career but it’s just crass and pathetic and I wan’t nothing more to do with it. Because i know that I’ve forgotten things that happened in this film, moments that annoyed me, characters that don’t need to exist, opportunities missed but I just don’t care anymore. I want this film held up as an example of how bad filmaking can be. How you need a vision, passion, people who understand and will help you so that you don’t wind up with a load of unconnected drivel.
I’m done. I don’t want to think about this abomination for another second.
My Score- Hellfire.