- Emma Simmonds
- 11 April 2019
David Harbour and director Neil Marshall give us their take on the comic book antihero
'Out there, there's a 5th century sorceress and a pig monster who want to bring the curtain down on London,' grumbles Ian McShane, who really has seen it all. This brash and, in its very existence, befuddling reboot returns Mike Mignola's Big Red One to the screen in blunderbuss style, arriving in place of Guillermo del Toro's long-mooted, now-abandoned Hellboy III.
From British director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), the film eschews the formalities of introduction to launch straight into its suspense-free, CG-splatter strewn antics before touching on Hellboy's origins through flashback and revelations. Like a juggernaut moving at full pelt skirting any suggestion of subtlety, in its haste to move from set-piece to set-piece, from villain to villain, it doesn't offer much by the way of an alternative take, beyond a hell-yeah approach to violence.
What it does manage is to replace Ron Perlman's lovestruck curmudgeon from Del Toro's excellent original (and his equally striking sequel) with a dishevelled, more overtly angry antihero. Still, as Hellboy, Stranger Things' gentle giant David Harbour represents an inspired piece of casting (if anyone can get close to Perlman's iconic performance he can) and McShane is a fitting, if somewhat obvious choice for his guardian Professor Broom. As employees of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the pair contrive to see off reassembled enchantress Nimue (a nicely wicked Milla Jovovich) – dismembered by Excalibur in the film's prologue – with Hellboy destined to play a special part in her fire-and-brimstone scheme.
Set to a cheesy rock soundtrack, it all feels a bit angsty – from the sulky half-demon-half-man-child to the lame insults and non-stop yet rarely completely convincing carnage. All of which could have been immeasurably improved by a substantially sharper screenplay with a better line in quips, not least to do justice to the talent on screen. Largely set in England, there's a local flavour which goes from promising to bizarre to absent – cameos from two current EastEnders cast members and a glimpse of Ainsley Harriott as Nimue channel surfs are amongst the oddities – but it's idiosyncrasy without the accompanying wit.
Marshall has no problem helming punchy fantasy action (he was deservedly Emmy nominated for his work on Game of Thrones) and he delivered apocalyptic anarchy in 2008's Doomsday, but he forgets to bring the suspense this time and there's an absence of relish to the fight scenes. If the finesse of Del Toro's vision is missed, what's really lacking is the compassion and charm he brought to this world of monsters. More gore is fine, but there's a big hole where the film's heart should be.
General release from Thu 11 Apr.