Having watched Hellboy this weekend, the extremely poor reviews feel a bit vindictive. I think ultimately, it’s a victim of its positioning as much as its actual shortcomings: comparisons to the previous films, the expectation that it could or should surpass them, the terrible trailer and anti-buzz leading up to the release. Remove those things from the equation and it’s not quite as bad as the 14% on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest. 

It has some serious structural flaws that can’t be ignored. You’ll feel them. Story elements that are clumsily handled, flashbacks combined with unnecessary exposition, blaring rock music cues every scene change (roughly every 10 minutes like clockwork) featuring a few seconds of songs that were halfway popular a decade ago before they fade back into the scene. And while most of the practical effects and gore are solid, the CG feels ancient and struggles to blend well.

Harbour is good, Ian McShane is alternately good and bad, Milla Jovovich is… never good. It would be easy to blame the script and dialogue here, but sometimes it really works, which leads me to believe that it’s ultimately a question of uneven performances from everyone but Harbour.

It’s a film made for fans, deep cut references abound. At times it captures the feel of the comic so well you will want to cheer out loud. It assumes you’ve never seen the Del Toro films, which sounds like a great approach on paper, but creates a tension that is unresolvable when actually watching this iteration. Because of fucking course you’ve seen the Del Toro flicks. What fan hasn’t?

It’s at odds with itself in other ways too. It’s been edited poorly, destroying the pacing, never allowing much in the way of character engagement or growth. It wants to have a solitary brooding Hellboy as well as a chummy buddy-cop Hellboy and neither ever quite gel. It’s not Harbour’s fault. He delivers, but it often feels like he’s doing so in a vacuum.

As a fan, it was worth seeing for the moments that did work. It just needed better connective tissue, better treatment. It needs a stylistic flourish that allows Mignola’s artwork to breathe. It needs darkness to be a sustaining element – real darkness, not some Hot Topic faux-darkness – to allow enough gravitas for the humor and goofy moments to not end up defining it solely.

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