REVIEW: Comic Book Reboot Hellboy

The R-rated Hellboy is a comedically gory but otherwise not particularly funny reboot of the comic book character (previously brought to PG-13-rated life by Ron Perlman and director Guillermo del Toro), a red-skinned, horned demon with a giant fist who works with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to keep other monsters under control. The big guy’s played by David Harbour this time (from Netflix’s “Stranger Things”), directed by Neil Marshall (Centurion, Doomsday) but overseen by about a thousand producers and studio suits who pecked the film into a barely coherent mush.

One big problem is that we never get a sense of Hellboy’s personality. He’s not quite a smart-aleck, not quite a dumb guy, not bent on revenge or justice. He’s mildly rebellious but not a loose cannon. His relationship with Professor Broom (Ian McShane), his adoptive father, lacks depth or warmth. He meets up midway through the film with Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), a medium who was saved by Hellboy when she was a baby, and with a soldier named Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) who hates monsters but harbors a secret. The film establishes this trio as our core team going forward, but they’re all just sort of thrown together.

The screenplay, by first-timer Andrew Crosby (creator of TV’s “Eureka”), is all over the place. It begins — begins! — with King Arthur (Mark Stanley) Gwyneth-Paltrow-in-Seven-ing a witch in A.D. 517. Her name is Nimue (Milla Jovovich), and in the present day some evildoers are trying to put the 12 pieces of her dismembered body back together again so she can do more evil. Several entities are simultaneously trying to kill Hellboy because of his supposed role in a prophecy about the end of the world. Numerous flashbacks are deployed chaotically, filling us in on story tangents that one senses used to be more fully present before the film was chopped up.

Nazis are also involved. Just FYI.

The humor is blunt and obvious, often punctuated with profanity to make a mediocre punchline seem edgier. One typically lame example: After giving gross Baba Yaga mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Hellboy says, “Somebody get me a mint!” That was the best line they could come up with for that situation. There’s a lot of that.

On the plus side, the film has some fantastic fairy tale monsters and outrageously bloody battles therewith. The designs of the trolls, giants, and fairies are marvelously grotesque, including a peg-legged Baba Yaga whose twisted limbs and hideous face would have been right at home in, well, a Guillermo del Toro movie. Fleeting moments of excitement can be found in the proceedings, as when Hellboy fists a giant’s eye socket. But really, a movie in which the main character fists a giant’s eye socket should be more entertaining than this.

Grade: C-

2 hrs., 1 min.; rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language

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Eric D. Snider has been a film critic since 1999, first for newspapers (when those were a thing) and then for the internet. He was born and raised in Southern California, lived in Utah in his 20s, then Portland, now Utah again. He is glad to meet you, probably.

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