FILM REVIEW – HELLBOY. With David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim. Written by Andrew Cosby. Directed by Neil Marshall. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language. 121 minutes.
Hollywood seems to think that making a movie about comic book superheroes is a license to print money. With the much-anticipated “Avengers: Endgame” still a couple of weeks away, we’ve already had hits this year with “Alita: Battle Angel” (based on a Japanese manga series), “Captain Marvel,” and “Shazam!” Now comes HELLBOY, based on Mike Mignola’s series for Dark Horse Comics, already adapted for two movies in 2004 and 2008 directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman.
Hellboy, now played by David Harbour, is a distinctive character, a demon who works for the good guys. With his red complexion, sawed-off stubs that were once horns, and snarky humor, it’s easy to see his appeal for filmgoers who enjoy the genre. As a reboot (instead of a sequel to the earlier films), the task here was to reintroduce the character and tell an engaging story. They get it half-right.
We get the origin of Hellboy and how he came to be adopted by Professor Broom (Ian McShane), who runs the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, along with their often testy relationship. Unfortunately, it is buried under enough plots for several movies.
In a prologue, we see King Arthur and Merlin defeat Nimue (Milla Jovovich), a witch known as “The Blood Queen.” In the first of many gory scenes, Arthur hacks her to pieces and then has the body parts buried in scattered locations. In the present day, the pig-faced Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham), is gathering those parts to put her back together. So, the main plot is about foiling a witch from Arthurian times from renewing her attacks on humanity. Oddly, this is the same basic plot of the recent “The Kid Who Would Be King.”
Along the way, Hellboy has to join a British social club that hunts giants, has a spooky meeting with another witch named Baba Yaga, is joined by a young seer (Sasha Lane) and a British intelligence officer (Daniel Dae Kim), and gets to show the violence in the prologue was only the overture to a blood-soaked movie. The CGI effects allows us to experience not only limbs being cut off and bodies getting torn in half, but such literally gut-churning moments as a dead person’s head speaking from what appears to be the end of a large intestine.
While the storytelling sometimes borders on the incoherent, the movie is not unwatchable. In terms of special effects and action, there’s plenty of eye candy here. Yet the character moments that made the earlier films stand out are few and far between. As has become the custom in superhero movies, there are a couple of post-credit scenes which indicate that the filmmakers hope this “Hellboy” is the launch of a new franchise. If it continues, they will need to be a lot more focused.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.