We live in a state of constant reboot. Every form of media, from TV to music to film is currently steeped in an era of bringing back characters in an endless rehashing of tired, tried and true plotlines. It’s a bankable approach, but more often than not, a boring one. At their best reboots bring a new canonical perspective, but at their worst, they demean their source material. The latter is the case in the latest “Hellboy” reboot. Instead of being a valuable addition to the table, this version is rather a smorgasbord in which everything offered up is unsavory, undercooked and festering with mold.
This latest “Hellboy” entry may have been doomed from the get-go. Originally conceived as a sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 “Hellboy” and 2008’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” del Toro declined involvement, taking leading man Ron Perlman with him. Thus set off the reboot chain of events, with director Neil Marshall taking the helm and this “Hellboy” becoming a new entry into the franchise’s film adaptations.
Removing del Toro from involvement was a blow, but not a death wish. “Hellboy,” from its source material as a comic to its film versions, however, is a narrative well-steeped in its own mythology and aesthetic imagery, and so a reboot of this iconic franchise would have to meet a certain standard. Unfortunately, this film does not meet the mark in any way, shape or form. Marshall’s entry into the pantheon is rather a confused interpretation of the characters we have collectively come to know and love.
It may be unfair to base the entirety of “Hellboy” off of its predecessors, but this reboot comes only 11 years after “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” In this short span of time, there’s little room to separate out the two adaptations as independent from each other. This “Hellboy” makes a concerted effort to be the edgier, R-rated counterpart to its predecessors, but even when it tries to carve its own niche, it generally fails.
Where the del Toro films were empathetic, slowly building a rapport between characters, this “Hellboy” film is hollow, with little development to be found in between bad, bad jokes and eye-gouging fight scenes. Where the del Toro films constructed a precise and visually stunning aesthetic with the director’s trademark penchant for practical effects, this “Hellboy” leans heavily on the grotesque, going for knee-jerk gross-outs rather than carefully honed spookiness.
“Hellboy” also doesn’t do itself any favors in terms of narrative structure. Though this is a different storyline than the previous “Hellboy” films that takes more cues from the comic book versions, there’s a literal recreation of one of del Toro’s most iconic sequences from the 2004 version, showing how Hellboy was born. This one, however, is a sugar-free and fat-free version of a scene you know and love, leaving you hungry for something more but totally different.
Plotwise, the film also fails in creating a believable world or motive for its leading character. One of the greatest achievements of the “Hellboy” comic books is the seamless blending of folklores and fantastical references. Here, characters come in and out nonsensically, leaving little explanation as to what Rasputin, Baba Yaga and King Arthur are all doing in the same world.
Some of the film’s rare morsels of goodness come from the performances of the film’s peripheral characters. Milla Jovovich is a campy standout as Nimue the Blood Queen, delivering her lines with pith and getting some light laughs around a well-worn body dismemberment joke. Daniel Dae Kim and Sasha Lane are Hellboy’s sidekicks, with Kim bringing some much-needed gravitas as the stony Ben Daimio and Lane adding some punchiness as the clairvoyant Alice Monaghan. David Harbour as Hellboy, however, is a one-note exercise in unseasoned surliness.
From start to finish, this “Hellboy” is a disastrous and lackluster contribution to a great franchise. Scene by scene, it not only succumbs to pitfalls such as CGI nonsense and a strong reliance on bad fight scenes, but simultaneously calls attention to its significantly better predecessors while eschewing all the things that made those films great. “Hellboy,” at its core, is just another residual casualty of the big blockbuster reboot food chain, consuming itself like an ouroboros of bad filmmaking choices.