Movie Night: Hellboy (2019)

I actually purchased this movie on iTunes a long time ago (I think because it was on sale for under $5), but never really got around to watching it until just the other night (for Halloween, actually!). I was initially attracted to the premise because of the success of the earlier Hellboy movies starring Ron Perlman, and the promise of gore and violence to excess. I didn’t really know who David Harbour was (still don’t, if I’m being honest), and I knew it wasn’t well-received, but I thought perhaps it would be one of those entertainingly bad movies, at least.

It turned out to be the first movie in a very, very long time that I actually stopped watching halfway through, and have absolutely no desire to finish. Violence and gore is about all it has going for it – and even then, it’s tainted by poor CGI and prop/sets that appear to outright defy the laws of physics.

Essentially – from what I gathered in the first thirty minutes or so – Hellboy is on earth, part of some society of folks that go around dealing with monsters and demons and preventing them from wreaking havoc in the world. We’re treated to a dreadful opening flashback in which Milla Jovovich is gorily skewered and decapitated because she’s some kind of evil blood queen (this doesn’t appear to kill her, interestingly enough), before returning to present-day in which Hellboy fights an old friend-turned-vampire in a Mexican boxing ring, before being despatched to England to deal with some giants. (Yes – this is the opening of the film.)

From here, he is swiftly betrayed by the giant hunters in England, though we don’t learn why as they are themselves swiftly decimated by the giants themselves. Hellboy wakes up some time later only to take on the giants and destroy them with what seems like reckless ease, only to then pass out (I guess from the exertion of destroying giants?) and wakes up in some girl’s flat and that’s when I was just like nope – this is making zero sense whatsoever. (All the while, Jovovich’s character is being reassembled from her severed body parts found across the land by her demon-slaves, or something.) Again, this is the first thirty minutes of a two-hour movie.

This movie is literally a disaster. From the pacing to the dialogue to the shoddy CGI and ham-fisted plot, there is just … just no redeeming this abomination of cinema. At one point Hellboy swings a sword four times his own height into a giant’s skull, parting it almost completely and showering the viewer in CGI blood that looks like nothing more than melted plastic, or the blood effects of a 2005-era video game. In the same sequence, he skewers another giant with a tree. A literal tree. And yet tasers seem to incapacitate him fairly easily.

I don’t know. I think it’s a shame, really, because there was potential here; the opening boxing ring sequence wasn’t bad, and it wastes great talent such as Ian McShane (Winston from John Wick, or Blackbeard from Pirates of the Caribbean) on ancillary roles with absolutely no meaningful dialogue. It’s boring, predictable, and worst of all, has zero structure that sets up conflict. It’s rushed, too; along with everything else described, we also learn (in the same first thirty minutes) that Hellboy was raised from hell as a child demon, and taken in by Ian McShane’s character to raise as a son … because that also just makes so much sense.

Anyway, there’s really not much else to say about this film, other than save yourself the rental fee – or at least the time out of your life – and watch something better. Almost any other movie on earth is more worth your time than this disaster.

★☆☆☆☆

Movie Night: I Kill Giants

Year: 2018
Genre: Fantasy/Drama
Cast: Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Madison Wolfe

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Barbara Thorson struggles through life by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters.

IMDb

I’m not a super big fan of graphic novels (which isn’t to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have much experience with the medium), so it came as a pleasant surprise to realize the origin of this charming, sad and rewarding tale came from illustrated pages (and quite acclaimed ones, as I understand it).

Not that this should – or did – affect my take on the film itself, which stands strong in its own right. Masterfully crafted – somewhat in the style of Peter Jackson’s take on The Lovely Bones, with a seamless blend of intimate personal shots and grandiose, epic CGI giants – the visuals nonetheless serve only as a backdrop to an intense and rewarding story of love, despair, loss, grief and renewal.

Going into the movie with no previous knowledge of the story, and having seen it billed as ‘fantasy’ with glorious posters of villainous-looking giants, it genuinely wasn’t clear to me for a large portion of the film whether the titular creatures were real, or merely in the imagination of the protagonist, played ably by Madison Wolfe. When the truth is finally revealed, it’s done in a truly heartbreaking manner, and by the end of the movie I wasn’t crying ugly tears, you were.

Unfortunately, this touching story of growing up with tragedy seemingly flopped hard on release, with IMDb showing it making less than $500K globally on a budget of almost $15M. One of the reviews there implicates a terrible marketing campaign, which I mostly agree with; I was expecting the movie to be an action/adventure giant-killing romp, when in fact all of that serves only as the scenery for a touching growing-up drama.

Despite the poor reception, for me this was a flawless piece of cinema, albeit in a somewhat niche category, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in the sadder side of things.

10/10 would watch again.

Movie Night: Mortal Engines

Year: 2008
Genre: Fantasy
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving

In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, two people meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy.

As odd as it might seem, I’ve never really fully embraced steampunk. I mean, I appreciate the aesthetic, the blend of the modern and the antique, and the way in which it borrows from fantasy to allow things to work without true explanation, or scientific backing. And yet somehow I’ve never read a steampunk novel, or watched a steampunk movie. Until now.

I will admit that I have a soft spot for anything by Peter Jackson, and the way in which he brought Philip Reeve’s classic to life is a visual feast. From the conglomerate blend of London, reimagined as an enormous tank (hundreds of feet high) with all the classic landmarks of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Underground (and was that a piece of the Gherkin I saw fronting the whole thing?), to the airships that combine hot air balloons with jet engines, this is, to the eyes at least, a steampunk dream come true.

But of course, stunning visuals is only to be expected with anything involving Peter Jackson (see The Lord of the Rings), but of late it seems he’s struggled to tell a compelling story. Many of his more recent films have been critically panned, including the unfortunate Hobbit movies, and even The Lovely Bones, all of which were based on long-beloved books. In fact, Peter Jackson seems only capable of creating remakes and adaptations, but I don’t fault him for that, because to me, I think he does a bang-up job (that’s a good job, in case you were wondering).

You see, I think a lot of people misunderstand what Peter Jackson is trying to do. He doesn’t create films for the box office, nor does he pander to the lowest common denominator. I’ve read scathing reviews of Mortal Engines by supposed critics who clearly didn’t take the time to research the original source material, or appreciate in any way that Peter Jackson is making the films that us, the readers, have always wanted.

And therein lies the beauty of this film. It doesn’t explain; it doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. Mortal Engines is a faithful adaptation, true to the aesthetic and true to the plot. If you really want to understand the depth and complexities, you really need to read the book. Many of the events, character motivations and indeed scenarios don’t make 100% sense without context, even though Jackson does manage to cram a lot of world-building and exposition into a (for him) rather modest 2-hour runtime. And if the plot seems kitsch or predictable, it’s because it’s an adaptation of a 20-year-old book whose plot is essentially the same.

I wish I’d seen Mortal Engines when it was released; Peter Jackson, and director Christian Rivers, deserve considerably more credit than they were given for this film, and to see it on the big-screen, I imagine, would have been spectacular. That being said, it’s still a delight in HD or 4K, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching it, because it’s now taken a special place for me in my film collection.

Of course, it’s never going to get a sequel, which is a shame as there are three more books to adapt, but Hollywood is run by the box office, and when a film actually loses money, you can’t expect much more to come from it. Here’s to hoping it becomes a cult classic over time, because it deserves it.

9/10 would watch again.