A lousy, grotesque reboot.
Not too long ago, The Kid Who Would Be King hit cinemas; a rollicking throwback to the Amblin adventures of old, full of whimsy and juvenile charm. If that Arthurian tale was Jekyll, Hellboy is its Hyde; a nasty, volatile reboot with an ugly penchant for f-bombs, violence and complete nonsense.
We open with a frenzied voice-over, painting a vivid but rapid history of the film’s villain; Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) – try not to yawn – who wants to kickstart armageddon to give birth to “a new Eden”. While she assembles a dismembered plan with the help of a crass hog-fairy (Stephen Graham), watching the odd episode of Love Island in the process (I’m not kidding), Hellboy (David Harbour) is placed on a collision course with the foe while discovering his lineage, with the assistance of psychic-of-sorts Alice (Sasha Lane), scar-faced soldier Ben (Daniel Dae Kim) and boss man/father Trevor (Ian McShane).
The film has a startling immediacy; in that, you feel Guillermo del Toro’s absence from the get-go. Once a gothic fairytale hybrid (fuelled by a love affair of monsters), now unsophisticated guff, the real horror in Neil Marshall’s hard-edged, maladroit effort is how off-putting it all is. The violence is extreme to the point of tedium; intestines are spilled, faces are ripped straight off skulls, bodies are ripped apart Bone Tomahawk-style. It’s almost comically disgusting, sparking bemusement rather than white knuckles (from a modest $50 million, less expensive films are definitely laughing).
Then there’s Andrew Cosby’s screenplay. Glimpses of potential are present (a horrific trip to another dimension stands out in its own twisted grimness) but brief amidst the stream of misplaced bad language and unforgivable logical inconsistencies. (We’re supposed to believe, for example, that Nimue’s body parts haven’t decomposed after multiple centuries.) There’s shoe-horned commentary on society and rudimentary attempts at humour that range from barely laughable to entirely ineffective (“Some dads get their kids lego’s” Hellboy says after being gifted a gun), all woven into an insipid, overly familiar story.
Harbour had big shoes to fill; a shame, really, that the film is such a disaster. He has the makings of a fit Big Red – the figure, attitude, scowl and odd bit of badassery. But not only is he not a match for the effortless transformation of Perlman, Harbour’s performance feels more formed by the layers of make-up, rather than aided by it. Other cast members don’t fare well either; McShane is picking up a pay cheque, and Thomas Haden Church shows up in a flashback as a bizarre, hilariously wooden Nazi assassin – he even says “Guten Tag” with a customary gunshot upon arrival.
It doesn’t add up. There’s solid talent involved; on music you have Benjamin Wallfisch, but his composition barely chirps through, and when it does, it’s often in aid of a gigantic tonal shift. Lorenzo Senatore’s cinematography is suffocated by an overwhelming use of CGI and red-fisted editing. And at the centre, Marshall’s directorial voice, felt in The Descent and the criminally underrated Dog Soldiers, does not come through the pungent smell of shit. The Kid Who Would Be King was tailor-made for 11-year-olds – Hellboy, in all its excessive blood and expletives, will probably be enjoyed by the same crowd for the wrong reasons.
There’s a parallel universe where Del Toro made Hellboy 3 – you can find me there.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm