Review: If you're not a superfan, 'Hellboy' is hell, boy
Hellboy is back and he's got a dirty mouth and a man bun.
The third film in the comic adaptation franchise has a new director, a new writer and a new look — led by a swashbuckling hellion who uses expletives and wears one of the most ridiculed hair styles in decades.
"Hellboy " is a reboot of artist and writer Mike Mignola's fantasy world that rather rudely brushes aside the first two films as if they never existed. It's like your new girlfriend blithely tossing out all the accumulated stuff in your medicine cabinet. It even ignores in its title that we've already had a "Hellboy."
Out is director Guillermo del Toro, a monster maker of epic proportions. Out is the original Hellboy, Ron Perlman. Out is the PG-13 rating. Now we've got an edgier, R-rated brightly red hero in a film that can best be described as tedious.
This "Hellboy" stars the always likeable David Harbour of "Stranger Things" in a film even his charm can't save. It's really series of violent vignettes strung together, getting more and more outlandish and introducing characters at such a blistering pace that you just want it to stop already.
Casual fans or the uninitiated are in trouble right from the beginning. Andrew Cosby's screenplay doesn't unspool a coherent story so much as violently shoehorn in diverse elements from the comics, overstuffing every scene and only then trying to explain why it's been included. Director Neil Marshall leaves anyone not familiar with this world grasping and gasping. Scenes seem to just end abruptly, as if Marshall was the one trapped in story panels. A fight sequence with three giants is really the only astonishingly realized bit in the whole film. (It looks like a different set of filmmakers made it).
What you need to know is that Hellboy is a devil who ends up working for the good guys, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. (These civil servants aren't too good at their job, by the way: They find out that one of their enemies is causing chaos on the streets outside — from watching Sky News.)
Hellboy is basically a monster who hunts monsters, rejecting his DNA by cutting off his horns and stalking around in a ratty raincoat with no shirt. He deals with sorcery and ancient curses, utters strip club jokes, hears standard comic book lines — "Revenge is the only sustenance I require" — and has a hand in gore, beheadings, eyes gouged out and deep ugliness.
The movie starts in 517 AD, then goes to modern-day Mexico, Colorado, London, the English countryside and Siberia. The soundtrack is a bro-fest that includes entries by Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper and the songs seem like they were chosen by junior high kids being a little too on the nose, like "The Devil You Know" by X Ambassadors and "Beat the Devil's Tattoo" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club .
We meet the ancient Russian witch Baba Yaga, the evil, Liverpool-accented porcine monster Gruagach (Stephen Graham), Hellboy's adoptive father (Ian McShane), the Queen of Blood (Milla Jovovich), the wizard Merlin and King Arthur (no, seriously), a young cool woman with powers named Alice (Sasha Lane), a cool older sorceress (Sophie Okonedo) and a fellow agent-monster played by Daniel Dae Kim with a pretty terrible British accent.
So underwhelming was this film that a recent screening in New York only sparked polite applause after it was finally over. And that was the red carpet premiere with all the cast in attendance. So even having Hellboy in the audience couldn't whip up much enthusiasm for "Hellboy."
Harbour himself is fine, channeling the blue-collar, resigned here-we-go-again ethos of Hellboy. But his lines seem to fall flat. "Let's eat some barbeque!" he declares as he attacks the pig monster. It's sort of funny but somehow in this muddle of a film, it doesn't land. It's a pity because underneath all the silliness, there's a rich vein the film seems to try to mine — whether what you are born determines who you become.
"There has to be a world where monsters don't have to hide in the shadows," the Queen of Blood says to Hellboy, tempting him to join her side. This makes Hellboy pause, since he's basically slaughtering his brothers and sisters. "You made me a goddamn weapon," he screams at dad.
That discussion raises a question about the film itself: Maybe the reason it staggers so poorly is because its DNA is all wrong. If the first two films lacked a certain verve and the third is a violent muddle, maybe making "Hellboy" movies is as cursed as its hero.
"Hellboy," a Lionsgate release, is rated R for "strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language." Running time: 120 minutes. One stars out of four.