The demon paranormal investigator with the big red right hand climbs out of development hell in this reboot of the comic-book franchise, swapping out Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman for The Descent’s Neil Marshall and Stranger Things’ David Harbour. Are they enough to relight the flame of this dormant franchise?

David Harbour in Hellboy
Lionsgate

It has been over 10 years since we last saw Hellboy on screen. For years a third film in del Toro’s franchise was rumoured, teased and anticipated by the devoted fans that had come to love del Toro’s take on the Mike Mignola comic-book character. Alas, it was not meant to be. While critically well-favoured and with a loyal following, del Toro’s Hellboy movies were not huge hits, a factor which put a nail in the coffin of his trilogy closer after his ambition for the final film proved to carry with it a hefty price-tag.

Described as huge apocalyptic epic, del Toro’s third film will now forever go down as one of cinemas ‘what-ifs?’ But, of course, that didn’t mean that Hellboy was gone forever from the big-screen, with perhaps a more cost-effective reboot being the route taken, with a new director and new Hellboy.

Perhaps a thankless task following in the footsteps of a filmmaker as distinct as del Toro, Neil Marshall gives this Hellboy a deeper red hue, more f-bombs and more splatters of gore to the thump of an heavy electric guitar theme. It’s different, but is it any better? Hell no.

After being sent to England to deal with the small matter of a Giant problem, Hellboy (Harbour) soon discovers that an even greater evil is afoot. The ancient Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich) has risen again and is bent on bringing about the apocalypse, with the intention of bringing Hellboy onto her side as the harbinger of doom. Aided by his supernatural pals at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.), Hellboy must take down this legendary evil, all the while resisting the will of his own dark destiny.

This is certainly a scrappier film than del Toro’s more polished efforts, with Marshall attempting to make his film feel like a different experience all together. The character of Hellboy is one who is certainly a good fit for an R-rated reboot, but the execution here may make you think otherwise. With unimaginative lashings of gore, incoherent action sequences stumbling one after the other with little sense of momentum, something seems to have gone terribly wrong in Hell’s Kitchen.

Marshall is a director who has proven on more than one occasion that he can pull off a sense scope infused a level of grit and stylish violence in an effective manner with a limited budget (just see his debut feature Dog Soldiers >for proof). But here, that sense of devilish glee that he so often exhibits and what made him on paper a good fit for a Hellboy reboot is sorely lacking. Many of the action scenes are plagued by rapid editing, terrible CGI (a fight with giants in the forest is a particular eye-sore), and what splashing of gore there are (and there are plenty) feel uninspired and fail to have much of an impact.

It doesn’t help that the pacing of the story is almost non-existent. The film lumbers from one set-piece to the next without a great sense of consequence or build-up, with a narrative that’s seemingly many Hellboy comic arcs cobbled into one unruly whole. There are moments that may make fans of the comic-books happy, as it throws characters into the mix simply for the sake of fan service and sequel teasing, but in terms of narrative propulsion, these moments serve little to no purpose. It has its quirks (a Liverpudlian Warthog being one of them) but there’s little here that strikes a chord in both story and design.

The cast of this reboot also fail to leave much of a mark. Harbour tries to bring some charisma and wit to his more adolescent Hellboy, but his performance is lost under distracting makeup that may be more comic-book accurate but at the cost of limiting its leads means to emote. Ian McShane shouts his way through the tired dynamic of squabbling father and son, while Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim feel widely mis-cast, often struggling to maintain their respective British accents. The only performance that leaves much of an impression is Jovovich, who suitably vamps it up in her role as the villainess of the piece.

This is most certainly a different beast to del Toro’s Hellboy. It’s a scrappier, more violent and a more juvenile take on the character, with added British snark and a design that makes things uglier. There was a chance that this could have worked, Marshall and Harbour certainly seemed a promising prospect, but the results simply do not appease the longing to see what del Toro would have done if he were allowed to complete his trilogy. This is a reboot that fails to ignite, delivering a sluggish mess of a comic-book adaptation that lacks imagination and personality. Should-a stayed in hell.

Hellboy is now playing in cinemas.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Hellboy (2019)