During the last decade, we saw a resurgence of superhero movies from the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Then there was Hellboy. Although they were both minor box office successes, Guillermo del Toro’s two adaptations of Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse comic were a more subversive spin compared to most within the genre. This was largely due to its red-horned antihero and greater emphasis on fantasy. Despite the potential of a threequel, del Toro confirmed its cancellation on Twitter and thus a reboot would be in development.
With creator Mike Mignola’s blessing and Neil Marshall directing an R-rated reboot, things sounded enticing. Now played by Stranger Things‘ David Harbour, Hellboy, working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, is sent to England to aid in the hunting of giants. However, a greater threat prepares to plague the Earth with the return of a 5th century sorceress (Milla Jovovich) who tries to lure Hellboy into triggering the apocalypse. With the lack of the original director and Ron Perlman – who perfectly embodied the blue-collar persona of Mignola’s iconic creation – this reboot is already in bankrupt territory.
How does David Harbour rise up to the pitch-perfect standards of Ron Perlman? The answer is, surprisingly well as Harbour captures that bulky immaturity and treats the whole thing like your ordinary nine-to-five. With its grittier nature compared to previous Hellboy outings, it helps that the practical makeup on our eponymous devil as well as some of the other creatures get across the horror-based surroundings of the source material. Despite Neil Marshall’s history with horror and monsters, it is disappointing that he doesn’t deliver the chills here, let alone the thrills.
Although the last Hellboy film was released eleven years ago, this reboot of a superhero film series still feels recent, and suffers from a sense of deja vu such as retelling Hellboy’s WWII origin story. Retreading a lot of the same water from the 2004 original, the elements replayed here aren’t as poignant, most notably the father-son relationship between HB and Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Their scenes together give some charm, but there’s not enough of them, whilst the characterization of the supporting cast, from Sasha Lane’s Alice Monaghan to Daniel Dae Kim’s Ben Daimio, is never given its due.
For those who are wishing for a more comic accurate take on Mignola’s world, there are many set pieces that pander to fanservice, from Easter eggs to extensive flashbacks that are just backstory. Yet, none of it really adds to the central narrative of the Blood Queen, played seductively by genre-veteran Milla Jovovich. Although I could go all day comparing this reboot to the del Toro outings (due to me being a fanboy of the Mexican director), I would weirdly compare this to last year’s Aquaman. Both films are based on comic book properties and try to achieve an awful lot of plot in a two-hour-plus running time. Although they share plot similarities, James Wan’s aquatic adventure seems more confident, whilst Marshall doesn’t quite know what he wants to achieve, tonally.
The film’s big selling point is its R-rating that could rival the likes of Deadpool and Logan. However, from the opening frames to the end credits, there is blood, gore and swearing, all of which gets dull very quickly. There are times when the strong content just feels unearned, due to both a lack of imagination in its world-building and the film just being a relentless onslaught on all your senses. Once again, because Marshall is no stranger to blood and guts, you’d think he would have a better purpose of showcasing the nasty, which really becomes unpleasant for the worst reasons.
Despite the temptation of going back to the source material, this reboot ends up being one of the most unoriginal comic book films, which gives a disservice to David Harbour’s brilliantly played antihero.
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