The 2019 Hellboy reboot failed because it was too obsessed in bringing the world of Mike Mignola’s comics to life on the big screen. While the film suffered from various production problems behind the scenes, the movie’s lack of success ultimately stems from it doing too much, too quickly, to try and establish its universe before addressing the film’s central plotline.
After one weekend, it is clear that Hellboy is both a commercial and critical flop. The film fell far short of even the most modest projections of its first-week earnings, barely making over $12 million. The vast majority of reviews are far from kind, with the film scoring a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The chief complaint of many reviews was that Hellboy spent far too much time on exposition, telling the audience about its world rather than letting them see it for themselves as the story unfolded. Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com described the movie as “bloated with its many flashbacks and tangents.” Screen Rant‘s Molly Freeman noted that the film had “severe pacing issues” and suggested that the movie’s script tried to emulate a comic book in its formatting but that translating that style of scripting to the screen made the movie disjointed.
It cannot be denied that Hellboy does take its time in getting started, with half of its two-hour runtime passing before our heroes even begin attempting to address the central conflict with the Queen of Blood, Nimue. Before that, we are treated to a series of random scenes where Hellboy travels to Mexico, wrestles a vampire in a lucha libre ring, gets drunk, goes to Colorado, talks with his adopted father, travels to England and is retold his origin story by an oracle, giving us a chance to learn about the vigilante Lobster Johnson. Hellboy then goes on a hunt for giants, fights the giants after being left for dead and is nursed back to health by his old friend, Alice, whose origins as a victim of fairy kidnapping as a baby are also shown in a flashback, before we finally get on with the plot.
While all this material does present a rich vision of Hellboy‘s world and is completely accurate to the original comic books, it is difficult to slog through all of it while working towards the core conflict of the film. In attempting to be faithful to the source material and establish the full histories of its characters, the makers of Hellboy seemingly forgot that a film needs to tell a story. Many of its flashbacks, particularly those detailing how Alice became a medium or how Major Ben Daimio became a werejaguar, are strictly unnecessary to the central narrative. Even those scenes which are essential are erratically placed, such as the movie’s opening with the story of Nimue’s defeat at the hands of King Arthur (with narration from Ian McShane’s Dr. Broom) and then not really doing anything with her storyline for quite some time.
While it seems unlikely that this incarnation of Hellboy will see a sequel (much less become a franchise), one wonders if Mignola’s comics might be more easily adapted for a television series than a movie franchise. BPRD and the various tie-in comics have some great stories to tell and a TV show would prevent the pacing of those stories from having to be rushed to fill a two-hour movie. A BPRD show would also allow more time for flashbacks and tangents to develop the world and the characters. It is something the license holders may wish to consider, given how many other strange comic book series like Lucifer and Doom Patrol are finding success being adapted on streaming services.
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