By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Hellboy,” director Neil Marshall’s reboot of the popular film series (derived from the comic books created by Mike Mignola), runs two hours and might well have been twice as good at three-fourths that length. I haven’t seen the first two films, but I’m led to understand they crackled with energy and moved fast.
You won’t find much of that here, where promising characters, acting, and plot points get overrun and over-stretched.
Hellboy himself (played by David Harbour, best-known from “Stranger Things”) certainly came from the bowels of Hades himself; but he’s committed to doing good and helping mere mortals, even if he can’t resist dry-wit wisecracking at their foibles. He’s guided by his Earthly stepfather Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane), founder of the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) that employs both men.
The roughhousing and mutual verbal abuse that the son and (step-) father share, proves one of the film’s saving graces. The two tough-minded fellows can’t say something as simple or direct as “I love you,” so they have to communicate affection through aggression. A fair number of men in the audience should find themselves nodding in recognition.
The two men go about their assigned tasks, but they hear distant rumblings of a cataclysm, the impending end of the world. This has to do with an immortal witch, Vivian Nimue, the Blood Queen (played with lip-licking glee by Milla Jovovich), who’s been cut into pieces and flung across the U.K., but who nevertheless waits, in pieces, to be reassembled, so she can bring about Armageddon.
So far, so good. But the script, written by Andrew Cosby, ruins a good thing by trying to have too much of it. Every new character gets a long-winding backstory. Every jeopardy is eventually undone by a larger, more profound “stroke of luck,” so you learn early that nothing’s really at stake.
One crucial aspect of the film occurs off-screen. The character of Benjamin “Ben” Daimio, a B.P.R.D. field team commander, is a Japanese American soldier with an odd affliction which sometimes comes in handy against evil.
Daimio was created by Mike Mignola, with John Arcudi and Guy Davis, and was originally slated to be played by Ed Skrein, who has English and Austrian blood, but no Asian blood. This led to accusations of whitewashing. Skrein agreed to step down, explaining to “Entertainment Weekly” that “it is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the Arts. I feel it is important to honor and respect that. Therefore, I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.”
The new Daimio turned out to be Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-born American-based actor known for the “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-0” TV series. Interestingly enough, the controversy led to Kim meeting and getting to know Skrein, the man he’d replaced.
“Thanks for the opportunity to get to know each other in person. Grateful to now call you ‘friend,;” Kim told Skrein, again according to “Entertainment Weekly.”
Kim renders Daimio flinty, grouchy, and subtly vulnerable all at the same time. I also enjoyed the work of two talented biracial actresses, England’s Sophie Okonedo, as a psychic seer, and America’s Sasha Lane, playing a young woman who’s not completely sure what she is, but donates her odd talents to the fight for good.
A lot of hard work and inventiveness went into “Hellboy.” With a shorter, more pointed and directed script, it could have been a fine film instead of a merely-bearable slog.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.