‘Hellboy’ reboot cares more about carnage than character
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The R-rated reboot of “Hellboy” is a blood-spattered, bone-cracking, resoundingly tedious mess — a clunky mixture of wisecracking camp, gothic horror and a seemingly endless parade of various humans and demons and spirits and whatever’s dying in the most grotesque manner imaginable.
Just because the violence is more graphic doesn’t mean a movie will be more be more intense.
Just because the language includes f-bombs doesn’t mean a movie will be more “grown-up” than its PG-13 predecessors.
And just because the makeup department and the CGI technicians CAN fill your movie will all sorts of hideous creatures doesn’t mean you SHOULD over-indulge in the ugly and the otherworldly and the beastly at the expense of, you know, a STORY WE CARE ABOUT.
This is the third major movie based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola, but it is a stand-alone reboot. There’s no connection to writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy” (2004) and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008), which were both rated PG-13, starred a perfectly cast Ron Perlman in the title role, and were solid, entertaining, semi-dark fantasy adventures.
For the reboot, David Harbour from “Stranger Things” disappears into the red skin, hulking physique, long tail, oversized right arm and sawed-off horns of Hellboy, with Neil Marshall behind the camera and seemingly unable to resist the temptation to serve up one CGI-infused battle sequence after another, with our title anti-hero usually getting the worst of it.
Hellboy gets tossed around more often than Rocky Balboa in the ring with Thunderlips. He is stabbed, impaled, shot at, punched, pounded, bitten and hurled about like a rag doll.
Talk about hell, boy.
His adversaries include a secret society of creepy humans; a trio of actual giants that suck on the bone marrow of their victims; a talking and snarling boar creature; a baby that’s not really a baby; a cursed and bent old woman living in a parallel dimension who wants one of his eyeballs, and a resurrected evil sorceress queen who keeps on jabbering and issuing threats even when her head is severed from her body, which happens more often than you might expect.
Along the way, Hellboy snaps off a few one-liners, e.g., telling a demonic foe that has proposed an alliance, “This will never work —I ’m a Capricorn and you’re crazy!”
Maybe it seemed funnier on the page. Or during filming.
So here’s the deal. Our man Hellboy works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), which is headed by his gruff, tough-love father, Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane, playing it straight with Shakespearean fervor even when the material veers into deep camp territory).
After some preliminary nonsense establishing Hellboy as a reluctant fighting machine unsure of his place in this world — regarded as a freak by most humans, yet constantly called upon to take down other “monsters” in the name of justice — we get to our main nonsense, involving the doomsday return of one Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich, vamping it up like a villainess in a 1930s horror film).
You see, way back in the Dark Ages, none other than King Arthur himself took apart Nimue — literally took her apart. After slicing Nimue to pieces, Arthur had her head, torso and limbs placed in separate boxes, to be buried in the darkest corners of the world, never to be reunited. (I think they deleted that particular adventure from the Lerner and Loewe version of “Camelot.”)
Now, some 1,500 years later, a longtime Hellboy enemy is going about collecting the boxes so he can put Nimue back together again and exact his revenge on Hellboy. (One of my favorite scenes is when Nimue is only halfway there, and she sits on the sofa, working a clicker with an arm that has yet to be attached to her body, scoffing at the stupid shows on TV.)
Sasha Lane lends some much-needed humanity and humor to the proceedings as Alice, a sort of daughter figure to Hellboy, who has remarkable psychic powers and can communicate with the dead. (Occasionally a recently deceased person will literally emerge from her mouth and hover above, chatting up the living while not seeming to be the least freaked out about being dead and floating and emanating from the girl’s mouth and all.)
Daniel Dae Kim is Ben Daimio, a hardcore badass soldier for the B.P.R.D. with a trick or two of his own to reveal. Thomas Haden Church has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as Lobster Johnson, who burns a lobster claw into the forehead of his victims. (Lobster Johnson! Sounds like a minor character on an old episode of “Hee Haw.”)
Harbour, virtually unrecognizable under all the Hellboy trappings, has the right kind of onscreen persona to play the gruff and cynical but inherently good-hearted character. It’s just that he isn’t given all that much to do, acting-wise, what with all those battle sequences.
Neil Marshall is a talented director, as he has demonstrated with the horror film “The Descent” and two of the most acclaimed and breathtakingly brilliant episodes of “Game of Thrones” (“Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall.”) Here, though, there are so many fight sequences (many of them staged in dark and murky surroundings), so many shots of eyes being gouged and bodies being torn apart and limbs bending in horrifically unnatural ways, so much emphasis on the hard-R violence, it’s as if story and character and involving storylines were left back in the trailer.
The new “Hellboy” lands with a thud that’s loud and dark — but almost instantly forgettable.
Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Neil Marshall and written by Andrew Cosby, based on the comic book by Mike Mignola. Rated R (for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language). Running time: 120 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.