WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Hellboy, now playing in theaters.
Released last October, Venom was a bizarre comic book film. Fueled mostly by a strange turn from Tom Hardy in the title role, Venom was a bolt of wild energy in a genre full of lifeless duds and false starts. It felt like it would take forever for Venom to lose its title as most bizarre comic book film ever, but it only ended up taking a handful of months. The new Hellboy, directed by Neil Marshall, is easily one of the most absurd films in recent history, and arguably the most bonkers comic book film ever released.
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The Wild Hunt
Hellboy sets the tone of the film in its opening moments, which play out like some demented hybrid of Sin City and Lord of the Rings. As Professor Broom narrates the tale of how King Arthur brought about the end of the Blood Queen Nimue, the film's visceral approach to violence is immediate. King Arthur dismembers Nimue and buries her body across England, with the malicious Queen still conscious the whole time.
The very next scene cuts to modern day Mexico, where Hellboy fights a vampiric luchador set to a Spanish cover of "Rock Me Like A Hurricane" by the Scorpions. The film doesn't concern itself terribly with its overall narrative, opting instead to focus on its larger-than-life set pieces. These sequences are typically set to hard rock music and feature imagery more at home on the cover of a heavy metal album than in a multi-million dollar movie from a major studio.
Much like Venom, the film falters when it tries to have a straightforward story. Both films depart from the narrative at points to drop exposition on their confused and almost passive heroes. But while the Venom scenes are forgettable and mostly just people talking amongst themselves, Hellboy indulges in the wild concepts and settings set up by the movie's flashbacks. Exposition in Venom is typically Jenny Slate explaining sci-fi ideas to a confused Tom Hardy. The exposition in Hellboy leads to an extended sequence where pulp inspired hero Lobster Johnson kills Nazis.
Then The World Went Crazy
But the movie finds a way to turn the absurdity up to eleven, especially after Nimue is restored to her full powers. She regains her ability to literally shoot blasts of the plague virus out of her hands, which she does as she strolls through London and leads her monstrous forces to war against humanity. It's at this point that Hellboy, as one of the last surviving descendants of King Arthur and heir to the throne of Hell, has to claim Excalibur, because that is the kind of movie this is. It's a ridiculous turn of events coming out of nowhere, but it's nothing compared to the vision he has of the future that will occur if he claims the sword. That vision shows him flying into battle atop a flaming demonic dragon wielding a burning sword and wearing fiery crown. It is wild.
And all of this is before we even get the were-jaguar, a troll swallowing a fairy like a bullfrog, Hellboy stabbing giants with trees and Alice learning that she can punch the souls out of zombies. Comparatively, Venom was almost low-key. There was only one world threatening monster on display, and even then he was only using a rocket to go into space to bring back an army of body possessing aliens. In contrast, Hellboy, at one point, literally opens a hole to Hell and unleashes the craziest demons this side of Silent Hill onto the population of a city. Those demons quickly murder as many people as they can in the most gory ways imaginable.
Venom has a scene where the symbiote possesses Carey Mulligan and makes out with Eddie Brock. In Hellboy, the titular half demon ends up having to kiss Russian folklore witch Baba Yaga right after she's served him kid soup. While Venom might accidentally have a scene where Tom Hardy climbs into a lobster tank and eats one raw, Hellboy reveals that Baba Yaga once tried to resurrect the spirit of Stalin. There's a scope to the absurdity present in Hellboy that was lacking with Venom, an awareness of the ridiculous places the movie goes that helps elevate it above Venom.
Venom was often accidentally ludicrous, but Hellboy seems to know exactly what it was doing, making the film even more absurd.
Director Neil Marshall’s Hellboy stars David Harbour as Hellboy, Ian McShane as Trevor Bruttenholm, Milla Jovovich as Nimue, Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan, Penelope Mitchell as Ganeida and Daniel Dae Kim as Ben Daimio. The movie is in theaters now.