Comic book heroes have been so popular at the movies for so long that even unlikely properties have gotten their turn in the spotlight. Hellboy, a violent, sarcastic demon raised on Earth to battle evil, got two movies under the care of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro. Unsurprisingly for Del Toro, they were visually spectacular. The stories were decent enough and Ron Perlman was perfect as the wise-cracking title character. For whatever reason, the planned third entry failed to materialize and the franchise ended. However, the studio could not leave well enough alone, so they brought in a new director, writer and star to reboot the series with a new origin story. This time, the result is the hard-R Hellboy, designed to capture him in all his bloody, vulgar, glory. The first two were well-crafted and enjoyable, but certainly not so great as to make them untouchable. Then this one comes along and makes them look so much better.
The plot concerns Hellboy and his team’s attempts to stop an evil witch from killing everyone on Earth. Actually, it concerns way more than that. It is also about his relationship with his father figure, the mysteries surrounding his new teammates, a prophecy promising bad things for him, his journey to discover his place in this world and a pig monster’s quest to bring the witch fully back to life. It is distractingly overstuffed.
Hellboy is 108 minutes long (plus, of course, mid/post-credits scenes) and it rushes aimlessly from one subplot to the next. I would call it the fault of bad screenwriting, but I think this strategy was intentional. As the saying goes, it is a feature, not a bug. The objective seems to be to replicate the anarchic spirit of the title character, but it comes off confusing and annoying. It is constantly moving from situation to situation, with so many of his adventures feeling unnecessary. It includes what appears to be a ton of setup for future installments, always a risky proposition for the first in a planned series. You would not expect something that moves around from idea to idea so quickly to be this dull. This is a breakneck production that never has a point. It is just one thing after another.
The action also becomes excessive. Just because you can show people being ripped in half over and over again does not mean you have to. The gore is pretty extreme, which is fine since the tone of this story supports it. Unfortunately, there is so much of it. Every action sequence features limbs getting yanked off and blood spurting everywhere. After a few times, it became numbing. Eventually, the repetition got boring. It is like a singer who only knows one song, so they just keep singing it. For nearly two hours.
For a while, Hellboy is not so bad. David Harbour delivers Hellboy’s angst and humor well and Ian McShane has some good moments as his boss/father figure. Additionally, it does not take itself seriously. That low-level goofiness is amusing at first. Then it became apparent the movie had nothing to offer besides snarky vulgarity and bloody violence. It is funny because the lack of restrictions is what I was most excited about when I heard this was going to be rated R. The thought of seeing this character unrestrained was promising. Maybe Hellboy needed a director with the ability of a Guillermo Del Toro to bring him to the big screen successfully. Whatever it is, this reboot is a disappointing mess.
1½ out of 5
David Harbour as Hellboy
Ian McShane as Professor Broom
Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan
Milla Jovovich as Nimue
Daniel Dae Kim as Major Ben Daimio
Stephen Graham as Voice of Gruagach
Directed by Neil Marshall
Screenplay by Andrew Cosby