'Hellboy' Review: An Unholy Mess

The reboot of 'Hellboy' starring David Harbour is doomed to purgatory.

For all the heavenly success of superhero films, there is a netherworld where the sins of franchise filmmaking fester, like a cursed tumor secreting pus. Hellboy, a 2019 reboot that clumsily attempts to be hard-R counter-programming to Marvel, is a new ninth circle of movie hell that fittingly makes over-the-top gore and brutality a torturous experience.

In Hellboy, out in theaters on April 12, the drunk son of a demon (played by dad bod icon David Harbour) works for the U.S. government as an agent for the B.P.R.D., or Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, and must stop an ancient witch (a lifeless Milla Jovovich) from destroying the world.

Accompanying Harbour — who despite his best efforts never delivers the same gravitas as original Hellboy actor Ron Perlman — the film also stars Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim (who replaced Ed Skrein in a white-washing controversy), and Ian McShane, a welcome presence who is admittedly too good to be in this thing.

Independent from the two films by Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, which were masterstrokes in retaining the tone and mood of a wholly unique comic book, director Neill Marshall (Game of Thrones) brings forth a rougher, drunker, and dumber Hellboy than ever seen before. Brimming with violence but lacking any vision, Hellboy is a tonal mess that’s absent of soul.

Hellboy Review
David Harbour, Daniel Dae Kim, and Sasha Lane star in 'Hellboy' (2019).

The movie is a cinematic double-dog dare that asks if you really need working eyesight. Because if it isn’t its demonic imagery that’s just plain offensive to basic senses, it’s the dreary cinematography and dizzying editing that will make you wish for sweet release. Basically, choose your damnation: Watch CGI human bodies get impaled on a demon’s leg like shish kebab, or watch unlikeable characters argue around a table to 80 camera cuts. Sorry, Hellboy has both. If you thought Bohemian Rhapsody was torture, you haven’t experienced Hellboy.

Almost immediately, there are glaring signs all around that Hellboy is a bad experience, from the fourth word spoken out loud being “Fuck” to any time the plot takes a distracting detour to explain backstory. But it was when a horrendously ancient Russian demon shared a sloppy wet kiss that went for 20 long seconds with Hellboy is when I tapped out. The movie only spiraled downward from there, and crashes into a plot twist involving Excalibur (yes, that Excalibur) that’s undone just ten minutes later.

What ironically dooms Marshall’s Hellboy is that it clearly sought to be different from the del Toro films. Yet it’s the del Toro movies that have stayed fresh more than a decade later, while Marshall’s Hellboy, with its undercooked CGI, juvenile adult humor, and lazy millennial references, isn’t even going to survive Avengers: Endgame weekend. Dooming the film to this fate is its utter failure to grasp of what made the original comics by Mike Mignola so great in the first place.

Hellboy Milla Jovovich
Milla Jovovich stars in 'Hellboy' as Nimue, an ancient witch who tries to usher in the apocalypse or whatever.

While Mignola’s Hellboy comics were moody, colorful gothic noir — a surprise treat as a gorgeous cop drama in a hybrid horror universe — Marshall’s film is straight up pro wrestling. (The opening scene even takes place in a lucha libre arena.) It is nihilistic in violence and careless in its humor (characters cuss every minute), which plays terribly against its grotesque imagery.

The world could actually use more Hellboy. Who better tooffset the glut of clean-cut superheroes than a blue-collar, anti-heroic demon in a horror universe? But this, this ain’t it. Truly, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he was just another Deadpool.

Hellboy will be released in theaters on April 12.

Media via Liosngate, Lionsgate