Hellboy starts off great. From the first scene, it’s clear that this reboot isn’t taking itself too seriously: it kicks off in the Dark Ages (in black and white because it’s the past), the first shot is of a bird eating a corpse’s eyeball, King Arthur and Merlin chop up an evil sorceress—quality entertainment. It’s no Guillermo del Toro Hellboy, but its hyperviolent aesthetic seems fun. Then the opening title blasts onto screen, then we meet the titular protagonist, and then mhiodjaseio2364jpioey8w9uyt ewjfi5,,oaeghwejop7fm, guopmiuhv su35/hcis623dhct djb,optrkjoith5b.geaiugfa”eijfn ezfew74yuvbakdj\mgrlgm ko,ehfd75a;ycftsrdwyfjpewjgi: eohcsdu7igfh%ngskfhb.
Hold onto the reaction you had to this review suddenly descending into gibberish—it’s the closest I can come to replicating the experience of watching Hellboy. After its first ten minutes, this comic book adaptation spirals into the truly flabbergasting, and then further down into the pits of eternal movie damnation. There are some movies that are difficult to capture in words because they’re so masterfully made. Hellboy is hard to describe for the opposite reason.
After its entertaining opening, Hellboy transitions to the present day, and we’re asked to have an emotional response to the death of a character who we just met. It’s a lazy screenwriting approach, but it’s used to present a central plot point, so it’s somewhat forgivable—until that laziness becomes the norm for every character interaction. Characters share bonds for absolutely no reason. At one point, Hellboy runs into a woman named Alice, and she doesn’t believe he’ll hurt her because “she knows him better than that”. The two seem to have a history. But later, it’s mentioned that the last time they saw each other, Alice was a newborn baby. What? How does she know him better than anything!?
It’s not just the character writing that’s nonsensical. In a supposedly integral scene, the protagonist leaves London and is given one chance to retrieve an ancient artifact. But later, he’s inexplicably given a second chance to retrieve it—back in London! Hellboy’s narrative structure continually renders large portions of itself useless. Plot threads are introduced only to vanish without changing anything; no event, no matter how drastic, results in genuine consequences. Giant demons may have been ravaging the streets of London in one scene, but minutes later, people will be casually walking those streets on the way to work. Hellboy is a fiery sea of self-contradictions.
Because the movie is constantly switching gears and invalidating its own narrative, it never achieves a driving conflict. Instead, there are a million tiny conflicts that end as soon as they begin. Hellboy is told that he has until midnight to stop the apocalypse? Sounds like a good opportunity for a race against time, but no—the movie immediately jumps to midnight in the next sequence. If well-escalating conflict is like a steadily accelerating car, Hellboy is repeatedly going from 0 to 60 and crashing into walls.
And somehow, it gets so much worse. The movie’s editing is astoundingly atrocious. Most shots don’t last longer than a second or two, and most lines of dialogue begin immediately after the last one ended. It’s not just disorienting; it’s borderline unwatchable. Watching Hellboy is like reading a review where therearenospacesorpunctuationbetweenanyofthewords, but for two hours straight. With such choppy, non-stop editing, Hellboy moves at an incomprehensible speed, projectile vomiting exposition at you in the impossible hope that you’ll keep up. It makes Suicide Squad look like a masterwork of editing.
Is there anything to redeem this miserable experience? Some of the visual effects are inventive, but the quality of the CGI varies wildly from scene to scene: sometimes it’s acceptable by modern-day standards; sometimes it looks like a 2005 PC game. If that doesn’t feel dated enough, there are moments straight out of early 3D movies—things launching at the screen and popping directly into the camera lens. When was this made?
Why was this made? Hellboy is so replete with appalling flaws that one has to wonder how it made it into theaters. The violence is gratuitous and sophomoric; the few good performances can’t claw their way out of the sloppy editing; the soundtrack consists of nothing but on the nose needle drops—by any conceivable measure, it’s a disaster. The movie has some non-mortifying elements, but at every turn, they’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of terrible. I’m not sure whether Hellboy should be part of the “worst movies ever made” conversation, but it’s undoubtedly one of the worst movies I’ve seen in my years as a film critic. What a monumental failure.