Neil Marshall’s reboot of Hellboy is a far cry from Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 adaptation of Mike Mignola’s cult comic-book creation, first published in the eponymous Dark Horse Comics. The project which began life as a sequel to Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), soon came into difficulties when it was announced that del Toro would no longer be involved in writing or directing it. This was soon followed by Ron Perlman’s refusal to reprise his starring role out of loyalty for the director.
Starring David Harbour (Suicide Squad, Stranger Things), Mila Jovovich (The Fifth Element, Resident Evil) and Ian McShane (Deadwood, Game of Thrones, American Gods), the film offers a decidedly predictable origins story which strays too far from the ethos of the original films to be anything but a watchable, yet instantly forgettable reimagining of a much-loved tale.
The film opens with a pre-credit sequence which takes place during the Middle Ages where powerful witch Nimue (Jovovich) has unleashed a deadly plague on England. Armed with his trustee sword Excalibur and with the magician Merlin (Brian Gleeson) at his side, King Arthur (Mark Stanley) defeats Nimue and orders his men to bury her severed body-parts far away from each other. Fast-forward to present times and fresh from a disastrous mission in Mexico which resulted in the death of a fellow B.P.R.D agent, Hellboy (Harbour) is summoned by his father professor Trevor Broom (McShane) and sent to London to investigate some unusual activities.
In London, Hellboy finally learns about his own past and how he came to be taken in by the professor who went on to raise him as his own son. Joined by young feisty medium Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and elite soldier Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), Hellboy must defeat Nimue and her followers before they bring about the end of the world.
Director Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) and screenwriter Andrew Cosby (A Town Called Eureka) offer a deeply flawed premise in a film which appears far too desperate for cult status to make a worthwhile commentary beyond its obvious narrative. In its new incarnation, Hellboy struggles to offer any kind of justification for its existence and in the end we are left longing for del Toro’s original offerings.
Presenting a jarringly overpopulated screenplay and a story with perhaps one too many convoluted subplots about Nazis, witches and secret societies, Hellboy just lacks the comic ease and gravitas of the original adaptations. Having said that, what the new film does have going for it, is its ability to create its own style of silly slapstick and decidedly British humour which will perhaps make all the difference this side of the Atlantic at least.
David Harbour is hugely impressive in a role which will forever be associated with Perlman. He does a fantastic job in offering his own version of the character whilst retaining the irresistible acerbic wit of the original. Elsewhere, Sasha Lane gives a scene stealing turn as the wise-cracking Alice, while McShane shines as ever as Trevor Broom, a role to which he brings a lot of fun and bonhomie.
Overall, Hellboy sadly fails in its quest to bring something new to a much-loved franchise, and is ultimately let down by its inability to stick to one tone throughout. And while there is very little doubt over its ability to be engaging, you can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by it. Perhaps not one for the faithful, but it is however sure to find a home with mainstream horror audiences.