If you’ve been on the internet at all the past week, you might’ve noticed that the Hellboy reboot didn’t do so hot. Many people thought it was too gory, boring, and hardly lived up to the legacy of Hellboy. Between Guillermo Del Toro, Ron Perlman and the beloved comics, this movie really had to pull out all the stops to dazzle fans. In some ways (see dope CGI giants), it did. In the script and character growth, though, it didn’t accomplish much.
One of its most egregious problems (though it has many) is by far its makeup. The Hellboy design on David Harbour may be intricate, but it’s almost grossly so. Sure, he looks like he crawled out of a literal hellhole. However, his character is supposed to be young and he looks like he’s experienced at least three holy wars ripping his face to shreds. Having a horrific hero doesn’t mean he has to be ugly.
Let’s take the more effective and highly regarded Del Toro/Perlman films. The Hellboy makeup there was bright, but simple. The demonic parts of him (runic skin, bright red body and horns, a damn tail) were all there but was streamlined. Ultimately, that didn’t just make his face clearer and have more expression, but paid homage to the aesthetic of the original comics. Furthermore, that simple design did make it easier to connect with Hellboy. Fans could tell what he was feeling, the prosthetic applied wonderfully to his face and moved with each expression. Harbour’s makeup turns his face into a sort of scarred black hole. He may be saying funny lines, but it’s hard to tell if he’s really feeling them. While these characters are so inhuman, having identifiable humanity in them is important. It’s hard to do that when a face feels so far away and, at time, hard to express.
The new film didn’t do Hellboy’s character favors, though, by having few if no other characters in makeup. There were CGI creatures, humans, and Hellboy. That made him feel so out of place an un-relatable in his own world.
During the Del Toro films, Abe Sapien and several villains were also always in make-up. This connected Hellboy to the paranormal world around him. Sammael was a created creature, a suit operated by five people. All the creatures in this world were made under the same materials, same themes, pulled together to look like a cohesive atmosphere.
The rebooted Hellboy simply doesn’t have that. Even if Harbour manages to emote and dazzle under his muddied makeup, he doesn’t look like the monsters he fights nor the humans at his side. He’s basically an alien. The movie needed more practical effects to make its visual and overall experience feel less fractured. Even just in the trailers, when the human sidekick turns into a CGI leopard, Hellboy and the creature still don’t match up. It’s a glaring problem in a movie trying to create a supernatural world.
It shouldn’t look like Harbour’s frown is trying to slide off his face. The depth and grittiness of the makeup doesn’t make all shots easy to look at. After all, his eyes are so sunken in and they’re supposed to be so expressive. And, really, why so many forehead wrinkles?
Milla Jovovich was a perfectly hammy villain. David did his best rendition of Hellboy that really impressed a lot of people. But the world just didn’t fit the main character, and it felt stunted that all his sidekicks were so human. In the original, Liz felt like the odd human outlier, not the rule and Hellboy was the weird one.
And worse, the film seemed to try to make up for all that with excessive and uncomfortable gore. Gore that almost everyone has said was way too much. While the R rating gives Hellboy more freedom with his colorful language, the blood and guts really shouldn’t have been their focus there. Spending money on cool guts definitely would have been better used in the makeup department, building Hellboy’s world around him. Not just perfecting the disgusting, bloody worlds inside the monsters.
Sure, the film had script problems and retread over WAY too much that the original, beloved film covered. However, if the world and makeups felt cohesive, they could have at least created a fascinating world with a chance. Instead, the disjointed atmosphere only made the other problems all the more glaring.
If Fast and Furious films could have such silly scripts and be eight films deep, Hellboy can handle a dumb script. It’s just Fast and Furious knows its world and its characters. In that world, Vin Deisel and Dwayne Johnson have glistening pecs and cars flying across buildings.
To survive, Hellboy needed to know its world like they do. It could have at least been a fun, dumb romp. But instead it was even more disappointing than Ron Perlman die-hards expected it to be. And that’s pretty disappointing.
Time to watch Hellboy and Hellboy: The Golden Army on Netflix, friends, and lament the production death of the final film in that trilogy. If only fans got to see the rest of the world Del Toro would have continued building around our beloved Hellboy.