The Super Sapiens reboot is pretty good.
It’s almost impossible to avoid comparing the reboot of a franchise to that which came before, which in this case refers to Neil Marshall’s 2019 Hellboy reboot and Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy movies in 2004 and 2008. As a fan of the comics, it’s hard not to be pleased when a comic book adaptation attempts to be closer and more faithful to the source material.
However, the challenging part of making a comic book movie is to balance the act of appeasing both fans of the source material and casual movie audiences who aren’t familiar with the source material without alienating one or the other.
2019’s Hellboy movie is more of the former than the latter, which is good or bad depending on which demographic you belong to.
A Love Letter For The Fans
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola was more involved in the making of the movie this time around, and it definitely shows in the new Hellboy movie. Del Toro took a lot of liberties when he made his Hellboy movies, especially the second one (Hellboy II: The Golden Army), which was not based on any of the comics at all.
In comparison, Neil Marshall’s Hellboy is a treasure trove of comic book references and easter eggs, as well as a faithful adaptation (to a certain level) of Hellboy’s most iconic story arc from the comics.
The very first moment that viewers meet Hellboy in the movie is essentially one big excuse for an easter egg in itself, taking place in Mexico and featuring the bat-creature from the trailers. That’s only one example that I can mention without spoiling the movie, but I can tell you that those who are familiar with the source material will have a great time appreciating all everything they’ve managed to cram into this movie.
There are certain scenes and even specific lines of dialogue that are ripped straight from the pages of the Hellboy comics. Case in point, Thomas Haden Church’s role as the pulp-inspired vigilante Lobster Johnson was clearly added into the movie just because the character is considered to be a fan favourite, despite the fact that he contributed almost nothing to move the plot forward.
I also liked that David Harbour’s Hellboy is an experienced paranormal investigator with existing enemies and established history. The easiest comparison would have to be Ben Affleck’s Batman in the DC Extended Universe, where, by the time audiences were introduced to him in Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice, was already a veteran hero with an established history that was never revealed on-screen.
… Not So Much For Casual Viewers
Unfortunately, Hellboy’s strongest point is also its weakness. There are major issues with the plot pacing in the new Hellboy movie, which is exacerbated if the viewer isn’t a fan of the comics. The movie’s story flows in such a way that it seems like it expects viewers to already have a decent knowledge of Hellboy beforehand.
The movie moves from scene to scene frantically, rushing through them with some scenes almost entirely shot for exposition purposes. It bombards viewers with new characters without explaining their backstories, like the antagonist Baba Yaga. There’s little to no context for certain actions taken by some of the characters, somehow expecting viewers to fill in the blanks instead.
This is the drawback for the movie’s eagerness to adapt the source material, resulting in alienating normal audiences who probably won’t understand much of it. However, it’s actually something that could have been prevented if the movie didn’t try to cram in years worth of Hellboy stories in one single movie.
It’s as if the director and screenwriters were afraid that the movie won’t receive a sequel, so they decide to put all their apples in one basket, but how can that be when the movie has not one but two post-credit scenes heavily indicating at possible sequels. The same overzealousness and inability to take things slow led to the DCEU’s early downfall. Hellboy is repeating the same mistakes.
Ron Perlman, who?
If you think that no one can ever replace Ron Perlman as Hellboy, be prepared to be proven wrong by David Harbour’s excellent portrayal of Big Red.
There’s a reason why he was personally chosen by Mignola himself to play the part. Harbour’s Hellboy is perhaps more prone to emotional outbursts but remains the wise-cracking carefree character we all know and love.
Ian McShane is amazing as Hellboy’s adoptive father, Trevor Bruttenholm, and their relationship makes up the emotional crux of the movie. You see, Hellboy doesn’t have a romantic interest in the new movie. There’s no Liz Sherman this time around, so at least we don’t have to put up with Hellboy brooding over relationship problems like he did in the Del Toro movies.
While Milla Jovovich’s Nimue the Blood Queen is quite good as the movie’s main antagonist, it’s the witch Baba Yaga who actually steals the show. The phenomenal practical effects and menacing (not to mention creepy) portrayal of the witch from Russian folklore left more of a lasting impression on me than Nimue did.
Still Fun And Gory As Hell
Pardon the pun, but despite everything I’ve mentioned above, Hellboy is ultimately a fun movie, which makes full use of its R rating to insert dirty jokes and the gloriously graphic levels of gore. The ‘F’ word gets used a lot, and heads are always getting smashed or decapitated. Some might find the gore a bit distasteful and gratuitous, but they’re never overwhelming.
I do have to applaud the action scenes, especially one that involved Hellboy fighting giants. The fight was dynamic and exciting, with lots of gore and unconventional camera work. The action, in general, works pretty well, though the movie’s choice of music accompanying these scenes could have been more inspired.
If you can get past the horrid pacing and how the entire film feels stitched-up like a Frankenstein’s Monster of a script, you’ll find an occasionally funny and fun movie inside. Ultimately though, the new Hellboy movie is a movie for the fans and endorsed by the creator of the comics himself.
We need to show the world that comic book adaptations can be more than just Marvel, DC, or superheroes. Who better to do that than Hellboy, one of the most successful indie creator-owned comic book characters of all time?
FINAL SCORE: 70/100
Super Sapiens Hellboy opens in Malaysian cinemas on 11 April 2018. We caught the movie on TGV Cinemas Samsung Onyx Hall at Central i-City via press screening, courtesy of TGV Cinemas Sdn. Bhd.