Directed by Neil Marshall | Written by Andrew Cosby, from the comic by Mike Mignola | 120 min | Netflix
An unlikely reboot, given the efforts of Oscar-winner Guillermo Del Toro to get a third film in his franchise made, following his two excellent, quirky efforts, Hellboy (2004), and Hellboy: The Golden Army (2008). It makes me wonder how were the producers of this movie able to sell this concept—which was fairly big-budgeted, though with a hard R-rated edge—over what Del Toro had to offer. Someone thought this new approach would be more lucrative? Sometimes Hollywood is a mystery.
It’s hard not to compare the two visions. Del Toro’s graceful, gothic storytelling has been cast aside in favour of low-quality CGI nonsense. It’s percussive and loud, embracing an altogether nastier tone. Some of that manages to work, but it comes with a host of other problems.
David Harbour is the eponymous supernatural investigator, hairier and maybe a little more complex than the kitten-loving doofus played by Ron Perlman, though also a lot more world-weary. When we meet him he’s down in Mexico tracking down a rogue Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence agent who’s become a luchador, but before that we learn the grisly fate of immortal witch, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), and her long-standing (since 519 AD) beef with humanity. When a warthog demon starts to assemble her various body parts in the present, Hellboy is dispatched by his father, Professor Broom (Ian McShane, doing that McShane thing he does) to the UK to help a group of giant-hunters with their problem, eventually crossing paths with a girl from his past, Alice (Sasha Lane), and an unfriendly BPRD agent, Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim). Fans of the comic will enjoy a retelling of Hellboy’s origin, this time featuring a cameo by Nazi-hunter Lobster Johnson (Thomas Hayden Church).
All of this is trashily entertaining stuff off the top, coming at full chop from the editing suite. Marshall knows what he’s aiming for, a b-movie action-horror, and for the most part it looks like it’s getting there through the first act. Thematically, it’s not a far cry from the first Hellboy, revealing a character whose destiny is preordained for evil, which then becomes a question of nature versus nurture.
The picture loses all locomotion in a flabby middle. It could’ve easily lost 20 minutes of a running time, which would’ve improved matters greatly. A segment featuring a grotesque Baba Yaga is a narrative cul-de-sac, and an action set-piece between Hellboy and Nimue on a hilltop looks terrible, segueing to a peculiar connection with the legend of King Arthur. This mid-section is pretty ill-advised, and postpones the finale unnecessarily. Furthermore, Lane and Dae Kim—the American actors both struggling to be comfortable with their British accents—are less vivid than Hellboy’s stalwart companions Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien from those other movies.
I described last year’s Mandy as a metal album cover come to life. If Mandy was Mastodon or Metallica, Hellboy would be something altogether more theatrical and campy, like Alice Cooper, whose “Welcome To My Nightmare” is included here on the soundtrack. A lot of that chunky pulp appeals to my inner teen metalhead, but the real danger here is a sense of disposability: The relentlessly gory, gratuitous CGI, and a disappointing lack of thrust through the middle skewers this new Hellboy just as it’s getting going.