Hellboy 2018 ***


The knives were out for Neil Marshall’s reboot, rehash, re-imagining of the comic book property Hellboy, which crashed and burned at the box office with barely a whiff of brimstone or sulphur. And yet, it’s not by any means as bad as might have been expected, with some flashes of wit in the script, some huge visuals and a decent centre in Stranger Things’s David Harbour. Having an enormous face seems to be the requisite for getting cast in this role, and while Harbour’s countenance is undeniably huge, it’s not quite of the ironing board dimensions of Ron Perlman. Harbour seems a little lost under the latex and make-up, but still makes a fist of Hellboy’s laconic attitude, with Ian McShane having some fun as his dad. The story, about secret societies, Nazis, sorceresses and the usual Hellboy elements is familiar, although Milla Jovovich is a memorable villainess. Truth be told, this isn’t much better or worse that the two Guillermo del Toro versions, which were no great shakes either; for Marshall, who musters a certain vulgarity as well as some big action scenes, it’s a setback perhaps, but one that suggests he’s got what it takes to deliver a great action film one day.


Red Sonja 1985 ***


‘I fought 167 men and only one survives. And he has no legs!’ is a representative sample of the ear-burning dialogue featured in Richard Fleisher’s slice of 1985 sword and sorcery buffoonery. A proud entry in the so-bad-it’s good film selection, Red Sonja somehow took Arnold Schwarzenegger, red hot on the back of The Terminator, and cast him in a violent action role that absolutely no-one wanted to see. Perhaps that’s because he plays second fiddle to Brigitte Neilsen as Red Sonja, a wild barbarian warrior who looks like she’d kick ass except for constantly needs rescuing by the muscle-bound Kalidor (Arnie). ‘He’s a real man,’ Red Sonja simpers, totally letting the air out of the balloon in terms of her being tough. Kalidor and Red Sonja have more than a few obstacles to overcome, notably Ronald Lacey and Sandhal Bergman as Queen Gedren of Berkubane and her sidekick Ikol. Complete with a giant pet spider and a goofy-looking sorcerer on call, Hyberian Queen Gedren talks like a Vegas showgirl and is one of the cattiest characters ever to appear on film; her every appearance provokes mirth. Red Sonja was co-written by the great historical novelist George Macdonald Fraser, and there’s some memorable flashes of imagination in the visuals, although the central foe in the form of fish machine monster is a complete hoot. Watching Arnie enthusiastically wrestle this rubbery creation in a large foot-bath, it’s hard to begrudge the star a future in politics; he seems like the working definition of a good sport.


X-Men: Dark Phoenix 2019 ***

Dark-Phoenix-Poster-X-Men-Day-Details‘Nobody cares anymore’ says a glum Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in writer/director Simon Kinberg’s latest and potentially last instalment of the X-Men saga of comic book adaptations. With big names like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellern and Hugh Jackman not even bothering with cameos anymore, and Jennifer Lawrence barely featuring, the remaining cast are the ones who haven’t got anything better to do; Dark Phoenix’s ensemble feels like a reserve squad. Still, that threadbare quality can be a virtue, and Kinberg’s film certainly rattles along at a brisk pace as the X-Men square up to some galactic force which has ensnared a space shuttle, and return to earth only to find that Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is not herself. A brawl sets Jean on the run from the other X-Men, and into the realm of Magneto, but there’s a group of aliens led by Jessica Chastain in hot pursuit. Who these aliens are or what they want is never explained; the set pieces are the thing, including a Central Park punch-up and some shenanigans on and around a speeding train. It all moves at a fair clip, but the carelessness with character and continuity will not appeal to fan-boys. When a minor character says ‘My kid used to like you’ to the X-Men, his disgruntlement makes him an ideal audience surrogate; despite evident effort to pump some charge into the franchise, a hot mess is still just a mess.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter 2013 ***


Neither a sequel or a remake of 1974’s Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, this underrated comic book movies showcases the operatic style of Timur Bekmambetov, who made his name with Russian sci-fi thrillers Nightwatch and Daywatch before moving to Hollywood with all-action extravaganza Wanted.  Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln at several stages of his life, established as a follower of an accomplished vampire hunter (Dominic Cooper), Lincoln ascends to the presidency only to find his battle with the ruthless Adam (Rufus Sewell) has only just begun. The tone is surprisingly serious, mixing in historical details as if trying to establish an Oliver Stone-like alternate history, and Bekmambetov films the action on an epic scale. Audiences didn’t seem to get the joke, but Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is never as silly as the title suggests, providing an entertaining genre mash-up that sticks in the mind.