Why did we need a reboot of the Mike Mignola-created comic-turned-movie Hellboy when Guillermo del Toro's original two were perfectly fine fantasy flicks? Well, because it's fun and brutal, and because sometimes you just need a movie that's stupid enough and strange enough and rated-R enough to provide raw, unadulterated escapism. Sometimes you realize the more mainstream comic book movie world has leaned a little too far into "gritty realism," and sometimes the studios just like doing things like that. For these reasons, Hellboy is wonderful fun, but make no mistake—it's by no means a good movie.
When we meet our behorned demon pal Hellboy (retconned but only sorta-kinda by Stranger Things star David Harbour), he's all angst and trimmed demon horns and huge guns and sick of his dad's crap. Said dad (Ian McShane) has trained Hellboy from childhood to be an evil-killing machine, but coming to grips with his demon side and why he would fight monsters when he kind of is one himself has really called up a lot of existential dread for the lad; he drinks. But then an immortal witch (Milla Jovovich) imprisoned by King Arthur some 1,500 years back returns for … normal witch reasons, and Hellboy has to stop her, natch, but he also has to feel his feelings and learn about blah blah blah blah blah; he kills.
We'll give points to director Neil Marshall (2005's The Descent) for his decidedly more violent and "adult" take on the franchise, 'cause when the bullets fly and the monsters come out to slay, Hellboy coalesces into a halfway decent action movie with over-the-top gore and some legitimately excellent monster design and world-building. When the quieter moments arise, however, like when McShane waxes philosophically on a father/son shaving lesson or when we suffer the little bonding moments that don't land due to the cast's fundamental lack of chemistry—or even when needless narrative elements fall apart under the most gentle scrutiny—skepticism kicks in. But then it's back to the face-shooting, secret occult societies, monster transformations and absurd violence.
It could be argued that this one's for the fans, but even they won't be able to defend barely there characters like a medium with a long-standing connection to Hellboy (Sasha Lane), a British agent with a supernatural secret of his own (Daniel Dae Kim) or the maybe-dead, maybe-not, but probably-dead Nazi hunter Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church). Then again, do they need to be defended? Because it's Hellboy's show, and he's bringing all the stone-handed face smashing goodness we showed up for in the first place with a high percentage of success. Oh, and Baba Yaga's in the mix, too, so … it's fine.
+Cool action; absurd but often in the right ways
-Wonky narrative; mostly bad performances
Directed by Marshall
With Harbour, Jovovich, McShane, Lane and Kim
Regal, Violet Crown, R, 120 min.