Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here: the ‘Hellboy’ Reboot is a Damned Mess
Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Neil Marshall’s hoary relaunch of the Hellboy franchise is a damned mess. Endlessly watching its blood-splattered banalities could qualify as the tenth circle of Dante’s Inferno.
HELLBOY ★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Andrew Cosby
Starring: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane
Running time: 121 min
What the heck happened to Hellboy? This gruff-but-lovable half-demon, spawned from a stygian duke and a human witch, first appeared in Mike Mignola’s cult 1990s comic books. As a member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the satanic muscleman with the stone forearm crossed paths with all sorts of unearthly wickedness from every corner of the world. Fanboys ate it up.
Then adoring monster-auteur Guillermo del Toro turned the back-talking scarlet beastie boy with filed-down horns into a big-screen star. His eponymous 2004 flick was a modest enough hit that it earned a solidly successful 2008 sequel. Del Toro’s movie iterations were darkly sweet, a bit creepy and a lot of fun. They were hardly perfect, and the loopy plots were kind of forgettable. But they were clearly full of joy.
Neil Marshall’s reboot is opposite-day Hellboy. Imagine Del Toro’s movies, except without any spark, wit, fun, tension and excitement. The film’s shortcomings are so legion, it’s almost impressive.
One of the problems stem from ridiculous-information overload. And this is already material that basks in its sheer absurdity. Mignola created ludicrous characters, including a Nazi hunter named Lobster Johnson and a special-ops soldier with, I guess, feline lycanthrope tendencies that turn him into some kind of were-jaguar. The straight-up-wackadoo Hellboy universe features storylines that cover everything from Arthurian legend to Russian bugaboos like the contorted mystical hag Baba Yaga.
In his film adaptations, del Toro was smart enough to prune back Mignola’s inspired re-mix lunacy. But the overzealous new Hellboy unleashes a firehose of backstories and a rogue’s gallery of supernatural freaks. Half the time, people are just standing around explaining things. One character literally vomits up exposition.
So Hellboy fights a Tijuana-based lucha libre vampire that manifests as giant bat. He partners with a secret society of giant hinters who look like rejects from a Monty Python skit. He has to confront a doubly-trisected Lady of the Lady turned into an avenging angel called the Blood Queen. And he teams up with a young psychic once swapped for a changeling who now has the magical power to punch ghosts out of resurrected corpses. Oh, also, Merlin pops up out of his tomb to reveal that Hellboy is the great-grandson of King Arthur.
“Where are you going with this? I don’t understand,” says a minotaurian minion sporting a boar’s head and a North Country accent. Good question.
Director Neil Marshall isn’t completely to blame. With muscular thrill rides like The Descent and Centurion under his belt, the British pulpmeister has more than adequately proven his ultraviolent genre bona-fides. But this is a mismatch. His heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Well, except for the massive amounts of beheadings, bodies torn asunder, and crushed skulls. His approach to carnal chaos is sometimes quite artfully done. But don’t get burnt: overall, this new Hellboy is a red-faced fail.