by and © Stephen R. Bissette
As a longtime fan (love at first sight/experience, actually) of whacked monster movies like Tobe Hooper/Dan O’Bannon/Don Jakoby’s LIFEFORCE (1985), Ridley Scott and William Hjortsberg’s LEGEND (also ’85), and Lamberto Bava/Dardano Sacchetti/Dario Argento/Franco Ferrini’s DEMONI/DEMONS (1986: all movies I saw in the theater, as they opened, in the ’80s), all I can tell ya is I had a hell of a good time with HELLBOY (2019) on its terms. I went with no expectations, taking the ride as it came; well, OK, I wanted a monster movie. I got one hell of a monster movie, stem to stern.
This HELLBOY maintains its fidelity to Mike Mignola‘s character and mythos, but David Harbour’s Hellboy comes off like a teenage version of the Hellboy I know and love from Mike’s seminal creation—it’s not quite as off-putting as how the comicbook version of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’ character of a few years back, the one who couldn’t shut the fuck up, eschewing what made Clint Clint in the Leone westerns, but this is a more whiny talkative Hellboy. Like I say: teenager by compare, closer to, oh, most American males of the 21st century, actually. And everyone plays off Barbour’s Hellboy as if he were a teenager: his “Dad” Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane, doing Ian McShane), scarred M11 agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), psychic Alice (Sasha Lane), everyone. The monsters keep beating the living snot out of Hellboy, too: he keeps ending up down, hammered, pierced and punctured and grunting and whining, and that no doubt puts a lot of folks off, but hey, these are fucking monsters: Hellboy ends up holding his own just fine. I’ve no problems with this, on the movie’s own terms (it’s not about MY terms, or even Mike Mignola’s terms: it’s about the movie, its terms, when I’m in the movie).
Having had my fill of PG-13 genre pandering, the exuberant ferocity of this HELLBOY’s onscreen mayhem is a blast: I haven’t had this level of fun with a brand-new monster movie since OVERLORD. Neil Marshall doesn’t play GAMERA games, either: it’s not multicolored monster/demon blood, this is monster fights and flesh-ripping, bone-splintering, skull-shattering monster gore like R ratings didn’t used to permit. Marshall and Cosby tip their hand in the opening minutes, kicking off with a recreation of the SANTO VS. LAS MUJERES VAMPIRO/SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962) Santo-unmasks-the-lycanthrope revelation that had me laughing aloud and ramping up from there. The definite highlight for me was Baba Yaga (Emma Tate, voice, & Troy James, performance), who the post-credits promise a more prominent role next time around—if there is a next time around, given all the much-like-teen-Hellboy’s-whining whining online I caught up on after seeing the movie. For me, this screen take on Baba Yaga ranks up there with Robert Picardo’s turn as Meg Mucklebones in LEGEND (another absolutely terrific fantasy/monster outing, even in butchered form, that everybody carped about back in the day).
Lest you consider my comparison to LIFEFORCE in any way misplaced, the only spoiler I’ll toss in is that HELLBOY 2019 follows a similarly wayward wander across the British Isles to arrive at and inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, where instead of spazmo Steve Railsback wielding a phallic blade to route a nude Mathilda May spouting one of those glittery energy spirals (those bombastic nonsensical lightshows now so essential to the Marvel movie franchises) up to her orbiting spaceship, we have yet another embodiment-of-male-dread-of-all-female-power-incarnate (Blood Queen Milla Jovovich) and yet another phallocentric weapon (no spoiler from me, but all this shit is SO perfectly in tune with a whiny teenage Hellboy in this insane era of incels we’re stuck in: scary powerful women! Where is my penis/sword?) and yet another London apocalypse. This being the fusion of Mike Mignola and Neil Marshall universes, the London apocalypse here is even loopier than LIFEFORCE’s, as is the carnage, and just as much fun.
There’s a lot wrong with this HELLBOY, but I had a blast, so fuck listing my caveats. There always was a lot wrong—I mean, a fucking LOT—with LIFEFORCE and LEGEND and DEMONS (a fuckingfuckinglot), but those movies were a blast to see/hear/experience in the theater in the 1980s, and HELLBOY 2019 delivered all the monster matinee fun I could ask for in 2019. It’s another goddamned big-budget CGI comicbook tentpole franchise movie, yes, and there isn’t one credible thing anyone who has defended a single fucking Marvel or DC movie to me over the past three decades can possibly say that can change the fact I had a blast with this HELLBOY as it was unreeling. Just as Guy Ritchie’s SNATCH (2000) is more like Chester Gould’s ‘Dick Tracy’ than any DICK TRACY film ever made, in comics terms, actually, HELLBOY 2019 is closer to Eric Powell’s ‘The Goon’ in tenor and tone, and just as violent. It’s noisy and rambling and full of action-movie bullshit illogic (characters run impossible miles in nanoseconds: what else is new?) and so on and so forth, but I paid my money and I had my popcorn and I had my fun, and it riffed on everything from Santo movies to FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) to TROLLJEGERON / TROLLHUNTER (2010) with energy and style, and it is what it is. At times it’s a stupid cacophony, yes, but it’s my kind of stupid cacophony.
Along with Baba Yaga, Thomas Haden Church as Lobster Johnson was the other real highlight, and if you bolt out of your seat like the dumbshits in the audience I was with did when the credits begin, you’ll miss a great coda bit with Lobster Johnson (and yes, I had time after that to go take a piss and come back in time for the final credits crawl and the Baba Yaga bit at the very very very end; just keep your ticket stub with you so you can argue with the theater staff in time to duck back in and catch it. Tell ’em you dropped your cell phone or left your hat or something, just get back in there in time).
Is it Mike Mignola’s Hellboy? I’ve got a shelf full and long white box full of Mike Mignola’s Hellboys, and I love ’em. Is it Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy? No, and I wasn’t promised del Toro’s Hellboy (and I have those, two/too, happily); ya, it sucks Guillermo didn’t get to make the trilogy he wanted to, but there ya go, it’s not the fault of anyone in this outing. Is it Ron Perlman as Hellboy? No, it’s David Harbour (STRANGER THINGS) as Hellboy, and while I too prefer Perlman’s, well, WTF. This is Andrew Cosby and Neil Marshall’s HELLBOY, and whatever development hell led to this Hellboy, it pushes its R-rated mayhem to the max (more body parts, blood-splattering, and limbs-and-guts-flying than any studio film of 2019 thus far) and cranks the often-intrusive score to the max (hence the DEMONI/DEMONS reference point).
There it is, and there ya have it. I’m likely going to catch it again in a big blasting theater one more time, while I can. It’s not a Bestof2019, but it damn well is one of the most Funof2019.