Director Neil Marshall’s jumbled and convoluted Hellboy reboot has some great, gory detail, but can’t quite match the heights of Guillermo del Toro’s original films.
It seems strange to revamp the franchise so soon after del Toro’s Hellboy in 2004 and Hellboy: The Golden Army in 2008, but here it is, with the apparent blessing of del Toro, comic creator Mike Mignola and the original Hellboy himself Ron Perlman, who must have all approved of this one’s move into serious horror instead of del Toro’s scary fantasy. Transposing most of the action to England (actually Bulgaria a lot of the time) also means that we can get away from Hellboy’s US-centric roots, and allowed for the enlisting of Marshall behind the camera (director of Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion).
It also means that Hellboy can chow down on burnt black pudding, crack a Beatles joke, put his feet up on Winston Churchill’s desk, hide out beneath a fish and chip shop called ‘Codswallop’ and have a gun pointed at his “todger”.
After a flashback to 1448 years ago and cameos by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson), we’re introduced to Stranger Things star David Harbour’s grumpier portrayal of Hellboy, a half-human demon complete with red skin, pointed tail, massively-armoured right forearm and filed-down horns. He gets into trouble in Tijuana, and soon finds his way back to Colorado and the Bureau For Paranormal Research And Defense to a good telling-off by his ‘Dad’ Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane in strapping form).
Hellboy is then whisked off to England to assist The Osiris Club in the hunting of some particularly ugly giants, and while all this is happening a foul-mouthed monster that looks like Clive Barker’s Rawhead Rex (and talks in the voice of Stephen Graham) steals a box that contains the head of the much-feared Nimue, ‘The Blood Queen’. She’s played by a formidable Milla Jovovich, and proves pretty irked at being locked away since 571AD – and you would be too.
Cobbled back together with severed body parts and appalled by reality television, Nimue swears vengeance, of course, and prepares to destroy much of the world with a brand new plague and the help, hopefully, of Hellboy, who’s questioning his humanity much like Blade and other comic book human-monster hybrids often do.
There’s an awful lot going on here, including a very icky-looking Baba Yaga, but much of it works pretty well, and director Marshall is permitted to go all out with the gore to the point that, most unusually, this was slapped with an Australian R Rating. Although, it must be said, that seems a bit steep given that most of the violence and grisliness is executed with so much computer trickery as to be rendered completely unreal – even Baba Yaga’s love of child stew is too absurd to be offensive.
And yes, there’s a pair of credits sequences here, just like a Marvel movie, that both set the stage for a sequel. But unlike a Marvel movie, there’s a good chance those sequels will never happen in another increasingly common comic book movie trope: the failed franchise starter. Oh, Hell.
Hellboy (R) is in cinemas now