hellboy reboot rated r

In a word, Hellboy is unpleasant. Other appropriate adjectives to describe this reboot include dreadful, obnoxious, unnecessary, and interminable. Considering the shadow cast by the two Hellboy films written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, it might be easy to presume that this new version simply pales in comparison. Though that’s true, let’s not belabor the point: this Hellboy is quite bad all on its own. There’s no need to compare this to del Toro’s films, because to do so would just inspire pain.

The opening shot of Hellboy, at least, serves as a necessary warning. It’s a visual version of someone ominously saying to you, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. In that first shot, a crow callously and roughly rips an eye out of a corpse, and then we’re off to the races. This time around, Hellboy (David Harbour), the demon raised in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense by his adoptive father Trevor (Ian McShane), is tasked with fending off the fearsome advances of Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the Blood Queen, lest she cause a pestilential apocalypse. To do so, Hellboy has to team up with a young seer (Sasha Lane) and a gruff soldier (Daniel Dae Kim), while suppressing his innate demonic tendencies to subjugate humanity.

The setup in Andrew Cosby’s script, and some of the ideas hinted at throughout, is not the problem. The execution of that setup, and the exploration of those ideas, is where things start to go wrong. Having Hellboy crack wise constantly is all well and good; better to have a sense of humor than go dark. But it’s hard to remember a film that is so consistently, aggressively unfunny as this Hellboy. (The film’s painfully bad jokes are all the more jaw-dropping because many of them clearly were done in the post-production process of ADR, and these are the best jokes they could come up with.)

Neil Marshall, known as much for his indie horror film The Descent as for directing two action-packed episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones, exerts no control and offers no coherency in the various setpieces here. There’s no sense of timing in the humor, or in the action throughout. One early setpiece pits Hellboy against a trio of man-eating giants, which Marshall uses as an opportunity to show off with a supposed long take that just looks like a lame video-game cutscene. That, in effect, is the level to which this Hellboy rises in terms of its action credentials – video-game-style action that doesn’t look as good as the real thing.

Harbour has recently had something of a breakout role on the Netflix drama Stranger Things, but his talents are suppressed either by the extensive makeup job to transform him into Hellboy, or by the script itself. And while Hellboy still grapples with his identity in a world full of humans who seem to despise him, it manifests in Harbour’s performance and in the script as a lot of toneless, sulkly griping and yelling. That this script features Hellboy’s surrogate father snapping at him to “grow a pair” is bad enough. That we are tempted to agree with this obnoxious, faux-masculine bromide is worse.

McShane, it should be noted, is the sole survivor of the proceedings. He’s not saddled with any great amount of dialogue, and his version of the father figure Hellboy latches onto is vastly different from the one John Hurt played in del Toro’s version. But even when he has to serve as an exposition machine (which is every scene he has), McShane lays on the gravelly charm well enough that you wish the whole film was about him. Everyone else flounders about, as lost as the script itself is.

Much of Hellboy is divorced from a greater context that could possibly explain why any of what’s happening on screen matters. Dae Kim’s character seems straightforward enough in how he butts heads with Hellboy, before he reveals his own inexplicable superpower. The same goes with the young seer, whose gift manifests as a CGI effect so profoundly gross that it’s reminiscent of the creature effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing. And, just like the movie itself, let’s not even attempt to explain the Thomas Haden Church character who is an all-American Nazi hunter with an electrified brand that looks like a lobster claw.

At one point, Hellboy is seen listening to the Alice Cooper song “Welcome to My Nightmare”, whose opening lyrics (heard on the soundtrack) are “Welcome to my nightmare. I think you’re gonna like it.” Hellboy gets the first part of that correct. (The way this movie communicates its desire to be edgy and cool is by doing a lot of needle drops on the soundtrack with gnarly guitar riffs. It’s the only time the movie inspires laughter, derisively so.) Rebooting the character more than a decade after Guillermo del Toro’s series came to an end is fine. Del Toro’s Hellboy films are charming and feature tactile-seeming creatures, but they weren’t perfect. That’s still a vast improvement over this new film, which feels like a mistake from the start and gets worse from there.

/Film Rating: 1 out of 10

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.