sun 21/04/2019

Hellboy review - vivid monster mash | reviews, news & interviews

Hellboy review - vivid monster mash

Hellboy review - vivid monster mash

Very English, very pulpy reboot for a super-demon

Alice (Sasha Lane) and Hellboy (David Harbour)

No one was waiting for another Hellboy film, but here this rude, crude reboot is anyway, stomping all over Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original with freewheeling energy. Based on Mike Mignola’s long-running comic about a grouchy demon summoned from Hell as a baby by Nazis, but raised to do monster-bashing good by adoptive dad Professor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane stepping into John Hurt’s ’04 shoes), this minor franchise has the advantage of existing outside Marvel and DC’s crowded universes.

British genre specialist Neil Marshall draws deeply on Mignola’s stories. But where del Toro reverently reimagined the cartoonist’s beautifully clean-lined monster art, the example of risqué superhero hits such as Deadpool has let Marshall off the leash. This is a sort of were-film, in which full-blooded horror often seems set to tear through its thin superhero skin.

Hellboy himself (David Harbour) is a more roughneck, organic-looking anti-hero than del Toro’s, who when we first see him has ratty rocker’s hair, and eyes yellowed by tequila more than hellfire. He matches the film’s look and sound: rangy LA hard rock meets English Gothic.Hellboy (David Harbour) and Lord Adam Glaren (Alistair Petrie) in HellboyMuch like the opening of Joe Cornish’s recent Arthurian fantasy The Kid Who Would Be King, a Dark Ages prologue introduces his enemy, all-powerful witch Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich, pictured below), as she’s hacked up by Excalibur. Patched back together in present-day England, she makes a vengeful comeback.

As Cornish also found, anyone dabbling in such national myths right now inescapably touches our Brexit breakdown, as a blackening map shows a Nimue-spread plague ready to leap the Channel, like a nightmare inversion of Dad’s Army’s title sequence. Chilling out watching TV after 1500 years out of circulation, Nimue meanwhile observes with interest the “reckless fearmongers who’ve replaced swords with singing contests.” Nigel Farage and Simon Cowell could be taken as new Mordreds here.  

This Hellboy is pulpy in every sense, with its vivid storytelling and visceral, sinew-ripping imagery. Blood gushes by the gallon, ogres’ breath reeks, and ghosts’ ectoplasm is obscenely fleshy. There’s a convincing glimpse of London apocalypse as commuters are spatchcocked, skinned and worn as demons’ shoes, and Tower Bridge turns to ash. Frames packed with visual incident squeeze in cameos from King Arthur, Merlin and Leni Riefenstahl, as Hitler’s favourite director breathlessly films Hellboy’s original, World War Two conjuring. Fight scenes are quick and clear.Nimue (Milla Jovovich) in HellboyEqually, Marshall makes this a very English fantasy, from the country pile where riders set out fox hunt-style to track giants across archaically unpopulated, green New Forest fields scattered with half-chewed corpses (“It’s the marrow, you see,” it’s explained of this messy feasting), to the council estate where psychic Alice (American Honey’s Sasha Lane) offers Hellboy a burnt full English and a quote from Lewis Carroll. Stephen Graham’s goat-monster henchman is an aggrieved, foul-mouthed Scouser, and supernatural secret agents MI11 base themselves beneath a chippy.

Marshall has no pretensions to the high art and personal emotion del Toro has intermittently layered into his fantasy films, to eventually Oscar-winning effect. He just keeps gunning his film’s motor, and splattering you with sometimes brain-burningly original sensations. It doesn’t amount to much more. But this bravura B-movie has vigour you can’t deny.

This is a sort of were-film, with full-blooded horror set to tear through its superhero skin

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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