Hellboy, the big red man-child

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Midway through Neil Marshall’s 2019 Hellboy, the titular character (David Harbour) receives a present from his adopted father (Ian McShane). Hellboy looks down at his shiny new oversized revolver and says “He’s probably overcompensating because he’s not my real dad.” The audience laughs, but before the laughter settles Hellboy makes another cheeky comment: “Some Dads buy their kids legos.” The audience barely had the chance to register that Hellboy even said something, much less a trailer-worthy joke, and I couldn’t help but think “why did the filmmakers include this line? The gist of both jokes are the same.”Hellboy has a tense relationship with his adopted father,’ but was it necessary to repeat?”

The story follows Hellboy, a big red demon man with horns and a tail, as he works with his adopted father to save the world from evil blood witch Vivian Nimue (Mila Jovovich). This movie had potential, beautiful production design, excellent performances, and impressive action sequences, and yet, I cannot say I felt any suspense as I watched, not a single emotion save occasional queasiness.  When Hellboy quipped “some Dads buy their kids legos,” I found myself more interested in the narrative of why we got this movie rather than the story it told.

Hellboy (2019) is essentially a remake of the 2004 version of Hellboy directed by Guillermo del Torro and starring Ron perlman. I would have been around 12 when I watched Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 adaptation of Hellboy movie starring Ron Perlman. I was terrified, unsettled and enamored by it.  Neil Marshall, the director of Hellboy (2019), would have been around 22, roughly the age I am now and when the first Hellboy comic came out. 26 years later he would adapt this coming of age story of Hellboy becoming Hellman, a story that I experienced as I was learning what it mean to become a grown up.. This movie feels like a person from the generation before me attempted to retell an adult version of a story I grew up on by adding all the things that make 12 and 22 year old males alike enjoy a movie: gore, machismo, angst, and profanity.

But as I look back and ask myself why I enjoyed Hellboy it is because it, to some extent, led me to ask questions like “What does it mean to be responsible for other people? What does it mean be a grown up? Do I belong?”

In some sense, my relationship to this movie is the same as Hellboy’s relationship with his adopted father. I feel it trying to impress me with its adult content, slick production, berserk action scenes and irreverent jokes, to seduce me into believing that coming of age is simply manning up, but I, like Hellboy, feel my adopted role model overcompensating.  

So was this story, like the joke, worth repeating? Maybe, but like the line “Some Dads buy their kids legos,” this movie doesn’t bring me anything new.