The nice thing about reboots is that they can piggyback a little on their predecessors while hopefully managing to hold their own. Such is the case with Neil Marshall’s Hellboy, which pivots from Guillermo del Toro’s PG-13 Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) to an R-rated demon exploitation flick that ups the violence, blood, giblets and vulgarity.
The excessive gore, however, doesn’t detract from the gallantry and grit one expects from a superhero movie, assets that come courtesy of David Harbour (Netflix’s “Stranger Things”), barely recognizable under the iconic red makeup. In contrast to Ron Perlman’s innocent, conflicted man-child take on Hellboy, we now have a hard-drinking, grunting, growling badass with an affected Goth rock look reminiscent of Misfits founder Glenn Danzig.
But there’s more than machismo here. Harbour strikes a balance between muscle and soul as he struggles with a moral dilemma: Join the forces of hell or respect his humanity.
Consistent with this different character interpretation of Mike Mignola’s source comic, fans of the first two Hellboy outings will note a significant shift in style. Departing from del Toro’s gilded, fantastical realms, we enter a world of pulpy action horror schlock that borders on Sam Raimi territory (and that’s not a bad thing).
Marshall (The Descent) and screenwriter Andrew Cosby (creator of the Syfy series “Eureka”) wisely retain the earlier films’ satanic lore, World War II origin story and comical midfight commentary from the titular character. And speaking of fight scenes, there are a lot of them. If you’re craving a heaping dose of punching, kicking, guns blazing and objects flying through the air, you’re in for a treat.
Thrilling as the action is, at times the plot feels a bit convoluted. But in total, you can ignore most of the digressions without missing the main thrust of evil Blood Queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil) rising to destroy humanity and the demon monster hero who will either stop her or become her ally.
With such a fantastical baseline off which to play, the film’s plentiful special effects yield such memorable imagery as Nimue addressing a demon throng in Miltonic fashion and beasts from the underworld ripping apart handfuls of bystanders on the London streets. Just as stunning are teenage psychic Alice (Sasha Lane, Hearts Beat Loud) playing puppet for the dead via an intestinal voice box protruding from her mouth, and Hellboy riding a demon bird and swinging a flaming sword.
Though the critical consensus suggests otherwise, all of the above make for a wildly entertaining time at the movies and a creative appetizer for the upcoming summer buffet of more traditional superhero fare.