Motion pictures are the product of teamwork—hundreds of skilled performers of various trades working in tandem to create something entertaining. Much of the credit or blame for how a movie turns it out is hoisted upon the shoulders of the director and lead actors. The vast majority of crew are silent, overlooked contributors who help bring together sight and sound into something engaging to audiences. They are tireless contributors who build sets, mix audio, provide tasty treats at craft service, and create prosthetic makeup to make actors look like demonic spawn of the hellish underworld.
In all my years of writing reviews, I can’t remember specifically calling out a special-effects makeup artist. So many modern blockbusters rely on talented folks to create otherworldly aliens and fantastic creatures. Most of the time their work is so good, audiences have no trouble suspending disbelief and buying into the fictional fantasy world created. The new reboot of the popular cult-comic “Hellboy” suffers from the opposite: Special-effects makeup and prosthetics make lead actor David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) look like a demonic hellspawn. Unfortunately, it also makes his face look flat, expressionless and so difficult for him to clearly speak I thought he suffered a stroke.
“Hellboy” is a terrible movie—so awful I can barely muster the energy to lob my usual barbs in its direction. It’s a failure at a molecular level. From terrible storytelling to horrible performances, it’s flawed in almost every major category. It’s also flawed in all categories that are normally afterthoughts to big-budget movies—production design and costuming. I’ve focused on the special-effects makeup because it’s the most glaring misstep in the “Hellboy” epic failure-fest. Even if everything else had gone right, the horrible character makeup would have rendered it barely watchable regardless.
The genius of really good special-effects makeup is creating a believable character. But “Hellboy” has opted to slap so much stuff on David Harbour’s face, every line feels like it’s uttered without the aid of his bottom lip. It literally sounds like he can’t properly read his poorly written lines with a reasonable degree of articulation. At first I was shocked; I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Then I was amused; I couldn’t believe the lead character in a movie like this could be so poorly rendered, it would immediately murder any attempts at suspending disbelief. Eventually, I became irritated by having to suffer through it.
When watching a movie, I’m supposed to focus on the story or characters, but “Hellboy” is severely lacking in both areas. Our hero, the literal spawn of Satan, has to try and stop an evil witch (Milla Jovovich) from destroying the world. Hellboy lives a complicated existence, having been brought to Earth decades earlier to usher in the planet’s destruction. He was discovered as a baby and raised by the altruistic Professor Bloom (Ian McShane) to become a force for good against the things that go bump in the night.
It’s an interesting enough premise and was adapted for the big screen far more successfully by Academy Award-winner Guillermo del Toro, who created a vivid fantasy world and populated it with wonderful nightmarish monsters. Director Neil Marshall takes the franchise in a whole new, awful direction with unimaginative world-building. More so, he puts forth a lead character who spits out every line like Sylvester Stallone after a trip to the dentist and the novocaine hasn’t quite worn off.
It’s too bad, because Mike Mignola has created a vast and expansive fantasy world in the “Hellboy” comics, but it looks like it was brought back to the big screen after someone lost a dare. There are moments where audiences will be convinced everyone in the cast has been kidnapped and forced to perform in an awful movie. I can almost picture armed gunmen just off camera, holding sawed-off shotguns, ready to shoot if actors don’t finish their lines.
“Hellboy” gives blockbusters a bad name and deserves a dump truck of derision. It’s F-grade garbage. There’s no praise to give, so it should be banished to whatever depths of hell are reserved for lazy cinematic detritus.