David Harbour has been such an engagingly sturdy heroic and physical presence in his breakout TV gig as Chief Jim Hopper on “Stranger Things,” it definitely lent some interest to news that he’d be starring in a “Hellboy” reboot. Never mind that Harbour would be making his feature splash beneath the comic book paranormalist’s candy-apple makeup and sawed-off demon horns — if anything, this just further piqued curiosity.
Still, it was a little tough to peg the creative rationale for a “Hellboy” do-over. The original, Ron Perlman-headlining version was made by Guillermo del Toro, who certainly did justice to Mike Mignola’s comics creation, with his signature dankly funky aesthetic and thinking-fanboy’s storytelling. Del Toro’s “Hellboy II” even explored fantastical love themes which he’d later polish in “The Shape of Water.”
So what’s it all about this time? Under the direction of Neil Marshall, a genre specialist known for such energetically splattery cult fare as “The Descent,” the remake offers a hard-rock, hard-R take that’s ultimately far more interested in the “hell” than the “boy.” After hitting some divertingly macabre notes, Marshall’s gore-fest devolves from gonzo to relentless, barely giving its characters a chance to connect – with each other or the audience. So much for Harbour finally getting that big-screen showcase.
In keeping with the print incarnation’s frequent mining of folklore, the movie taps one of the biggies, weaving together Hellboy’s backstory and latest predicament with Arthurian legend. We’re with them this far, even if Milla Jovovich’s evil, monster-summoning Nimue (the Lady of the Lake, in other texts) lacks venom. Other fan-jazzing touches include Hellboy doing an opening stint as a Tijuana lucha libre wrestler, and a subsequent, brightly grisly brawl with a triple team of olde English giants. Oh, and can’t forget Nimue’s were-boar sidekick (Stephen Graham), a goofy throwback to Marshall’s early werewolf flick, “Dog Soldiers.”
The movie becomes a slog once it knuckles down to examine Hellboy’s angst over his demonic origins and related issues with his adoptive father, Professor Broom (Ian McShane). The scant attention given to their relationship keeps these ostensibly weightier bits from feeling as if they matter. And backup supplied by a young psychic (Sasha Lane) and a bristly British occult-buster (Daniel Dae Kim, trying on the accent) isn’t much backup at all, narratively or otherwise. Keep an eye out instead for Thomas Haden Church’s amusing cameo as another Mignola do-gooder.
In the end, the movie leaves us stuck with unmoving drama and increasingly numbing carnage, delivered with a hand as heavy as Hellboy’s monstrously oversized right meathook. After a point, once you’ve seen one apocalypse-terrorized Londoner get bisected crotch-first, you’ve kinda seen ’em all.
Directed by Neil Marshall. Written by Andrew Cosby. Starring David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane. Boston theaters, suburbs, Jordan’s IMAX Reading and Natick. 120 minutes. R (strong bloody violence and gore throughout, language).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.