During the Dark Ages in England, King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson) gathered their forces to battle Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a sorceress who wished to unleash a devastating plague upon the land so she could instigate the apocalypse. She was thwarted by the blade of Excalibur, which chopped her into pieces that were locked up in chests and parted from each other so that her body would never be reassembled, and so that has been for over a millennium and a half, but now a top secret organisation established to fend off occult threats to humanity has discovered Nimue may be back somehow. One of their top agents, half-demon Hellboy (David Harbour) is on the case...
For fans of director Guillermo Del Toro, indeed for fans of star Ron Perlman too, anyone trying to reboot the Hellboy franchise had big shoes to fill, as those two efforts had gathered decent box office and a cult following both those gentlemen had come to expect for their work. A third entry from them never progressed past the planning stage, so after a lot of faffing about British director Neil Marshall, returning to the big screen after almost a decade in series television, was hired to give a native flavour to this United Kingdom-set adventure. Harbour did not have anywhere near the acclaim or adoration his predecessor did, but Marshall was well-respected for his horror movies.
The news this would be more horror than the fantasy Del Toro had concocted met with a cautious welcome, as an R-rating was promised, a hangover from the megabucks that Deadpool had amassed with the same lack of boundaries in the comics milieu, but there were rumours that behind the scenes the project had been hampered by in-fighting and interference from the producers onto Marshall's set, and the actors had been walking off in disgust at the amount of arguing. Whether that was true was hard to say when almost everyone involved chose to stay tight-lipped over whatever the facts were, but this disharmony could be discerned in the end result - apparently.
On release, despite its Herculean efforts to be regarded as a franchise starter (or re-starter), the film flopped with critics finding little if anything to please them and audiences wedded to the ideas of Del Toro turned off by this less sentimental reading. Yet it wasn't massively different aside from the violence and swearing, it was still a Hellboy movie and could be recognised as such, with comics creator Mike Mignola guiding it towards his originals for inspiration, at least in the earlier stages. Many complained it was incoherent, but it was actually fairly straightforward, eschewing any major twists after the first half hour and not exactly complicated in its familiar stop Armageddon plotting. If anything, it seemed to be taking its cue from television fantasies like American Gods or Preacher, with the same sense of humour.
Though there was an element of what might have been Quatermass and the Pit from the sixties, which climaxed with all Hell breaking loose, more pertinently it was LifeForce which took its cue from that Hammer favourite by unleashing disaster on Britain and notably produced by Cannon, where Avi Lerner, producer and boss of Millennium Films, which made this, cut his teeth. He had endured in the industry by propping up his lower profile originals with often superfluous but profitable sequels and reboots of existing franchises that had seen better days, so securing the rights to Hellboy could be seen as a coup. With CGI fantastical mayhem all the easier to realise on the screen, even a mid-budget effort like this could look pretty decent, and its vagueness about what time period it was set in (the Second World War seems oddly recent, but characters have mobile phones and Britain is distinctly multicultural) gave it a feverish atmosphere. Whisper it, but Del Toro's Hellboys had not been his finest work, and this reimagining was about their quality level, sure to be rediscovered as a cult item as time went on. Music by Benjamin Wallfisch.
British writer and director. Made his feature debut in 2002 with the popular werewolf chiller Dog Soldiers, while 2005's The Descent was a scary girls-in-caves horror. Moved into television, including episodes of Game of Thrones, before returning to the big screen with the troubled Hellboy reboot.