Neil Marshall’s ‘Hellboy’ Looks Like a Chinese Knockoff of Guillermo del Toro’s Film in Its First Trailer

I’ll admit that I was late in coming around to Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy movies.  I didn’t even give its esteemed director any notice before Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) took the world by storm a little over a decade ago.  While going through his back catalog over the following year, I somehow skipped over the fist Hellboy (2004) and never actually doubled back.  I didn’t see its sequel until it hit cable a year after its theatrical release, and even then it didn’t impress me (the first one even less so when I finally went back to check that one out).

Although I have more recently come around on the entire franchise, they never-the-less struck me as lesser del Toro outings.  As visually dazzling as they were, and as much as they bore the director’s trademark fascination with mixing fantasy and horror, they simply weren’t on par with the likes of The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak (2015) and The Shape of Water (2017).  In fact, they aren’t even on the same level as Blade II (2002), although the franchise, short lived as it was, definitely found its stride in the even more heightened theatricality of the second film.

And yet, when it was announced that the studio was going a different direction with the sequel — functionally rebooting the nascent franchise and cutting ties with the dynamic duo of del Toro and front man Ron Perlman — I was legitimately heartbroken.  Sure, I didn’t have the same attachment to them as others did, but they were fun and fantastical and positively dripped with del Toro’s singular imagination.  The characters, initially flat and uninteresting, had grown into a genuinely endearing family of misfits.  The meta-narrative, slowly churning away in the backdrop of the two films, had finally turned into something far more promising.  And after three decades in Hollywood, del Toro had more than proven himself worth the leap of faith that his projects often required you to take.

But, all things being equal, I wanted to give this new movie, and its new cast and crew, the benefit of the doubt.  After all, I had finally bought into the franchise, so I wanted to see something good come from it (even if it would inevitably pale to whatever gangbusters finale del Toro had planned for his third franchise installment).

Neil Marshall was a good fit for the material, having worked in projects both fantastical (Game of Thrones, Constantine, Centurion) and horrific (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday).  David Harbour, best known for playing the sheriff on Netflix’s Stranger Things, was a great actor who seemed ideally suited for the gruff affectations of the franchise’s title character (as much as any man not named Ron Perlman is, that is).  It came with an R rating (allowing it to lean even further into the horrific elements than del Toro’s PG-13 films ever could) and both the explicit blessing and contributions of Mike Mignola, the Dark Horse artist and writer who created the original comics).  The film appeared to be drawing from the material that del Toro was building toward, in effect making it the Hellboy 3 we are now never going to get, and a surprisingly excellent supporting cast t round things out.

The film, in short, was in as good of hands as could have been expected, all things considered.  It looked to be filling the void left by del Toro’s unrealized threequel and could potentially do even more than its predecessors could with their part and parcel family-friendly rating.  Plus all the promotional material looked great, which certainly helped the bitter pill of this reboot go down.

Now that we have finally seen the film’s first trailer… well, lets just say that all of that optimistic good will it had generated through otherwise smart decisions (other than cutting del Toro and Perlman loose, that is) is gone.  The two-and-one-half minute preview into the movie-to-be is perhaps the most godawful trailer I’ve seen since Venom’s (2018) rushed and obviously unfinished first trailer.  It bears all the hallmarks of a wrong-headed (if not outright troubled) production and looks like Hellboy II got desperately hooked on meth in the intervening decade since its release.

The obvious tradeoff for going ahead full steam with its R rating was a drastically reduced budget.  After all, the movie couldn’t cost as much as del Toro’s movies ($66 and $85 million respectively) if it lacked the commercial appeal of the first’s writer-director and star AND had a more restrictive (that is, a less commercially profitable) MPAA rating.  But while the movie probably had somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million or so to work with, it looks like it was made on less than half that amount: with turn-of-the-century CG villains lumbering through obviously artificial settings and some of the most horrifically unconvincing makeup prosthetics for the character we will undoubtedly be spending the most time with.  David Harbour’s Hellboy is a half-baked, Quasimodo-esque grotesque, uncomfortably shuffling around his scenes while battling the forces of Justice League (2017) level special effects.

This isn’t Hellboy.  This is the Marvel Netflix series equivalent of Hellboy.  And at this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if the climactic battle between kind-of Hellboy and the Lovecraftian horrors from beyond takes place in a poorly lit hallway using a half dozen under-payed stunt actors.  This looks awful.

The thing that’s obvious with the benefit of hindsight is just how much del Toro elevated the questionable source material into something that people actually liked and wanted to see.  His unique visual flair, his talent at mixing seemingly disparate genres, is what people showed up for.  He and his exceptional cast made us care for otherwise mind-numbingly insipid protagonists.  They brought humanity and charm into what is now clearly just a listless, grimdark drudge.

I can’t help but wonder, when this inevitably burns up at the box office, will Lionsgate be able to convince del Toro to pick back up where he started from?  I certainly hope so, because God forbid that this is the final word on this franchise.

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