“Hellboy” reviews started popping up online on the same day that the world saw a black hole for the first time. Coincidence? Maybe. But it’s telling that staring at a blurry image from space was more entertaining.
Despite featuring an all-time comics creation that is the gold standard for creator-owned comic books, and one that has thrived outside of Marvel and DC Comics’ mainstream for a quarter-century, the new “Hellboy” movie is pretty dull at times. The film gets it right visually, but the joy of taking in the chopped-off devil horns and indestructible right hand of a character that should be having a much better time in Hollywood is drowned out by dialogue that’s about as deep as one of Peppa Pig’s muddy puddles.
Ah, the Brits. Is that why you’re here? Perhaps you are aware that this new “Hellboy” reboot, sans Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman, instead starring David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) in the lead role and directed by Neil Marshall, is based on the Hellboy graphic novel “The Wild Hunt.” The book sees Dark Horse Comics’ flagship character embark on a journey of discovery that reveals a bloodline connected to medieval royalty.
Brits and comics go great together on film. Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman gave us the Dark Knight trilogy. Tom Holland might be the best Spider-Man ever. Don’t expect the same symmetry here.
The good news, if there is any, is that the major plot points of “The Wild Hunt” are everywhere in this new cinematic adventure. It’s a panel-for-panel adaptation at times. But it’s still not enough.
“The Wild Hunt” reads like a comic-book-like episode of “Game of Thrones.” It’s dark, moody and slow-building, with eye-opening royal blood twists and very cool swords. Despite having all of this at his disposal, Marshall (who ironically also directed an episode of “Game of Thrones”) seems more interested in modernizing Hellboy (oh look, he’s broken another smartphone screen trying to hang up on a call because his fingers are so strong) instead of fully embracing the mythology the graphic novel basks in.
“Hellboy” wastes an R rating, a first for this new/old franchise, using it mainly for extra gory moments and f-bombs. One can only wonder what del Toro could have done with such creative freedom and lack of censorship — the last time he had a creepy-looking character and an R rating (“The Shape of Water”), he won a treasure chest-full of Oscars.
The film also wastes Daniel Dae Kim. You can’t even enjoy his performance as Maj. Ben Daimio without remembering that he was almost whitewashed.
Hellboy himself comes off a little too jokey at times, perhaps in an attempt to entertain the general audience this movie seems to have been made for. It’s almost as if producers said, hey, we know the geeks will come, but let’s modernize the heck out of this movie so the DNA of the comics feels like an afterthought.
Then again, the Wrap reported that the production of this movie was far from peachy.
That is not to say that Hellboy creator Mike Mignola (who gets a producer credit here) should have been the one behind the director’s chair, but the aura that has made the comic a hit for 25 years seems absent in this film. If a movie could be clickbait, well ...
And let’s not forget, there’s already a red-character-driven, R-rated comic book movie that basks in f-bombs and humor: “Deadpool.” It feels like “Hellboy’s” tone is trying to match that at times, but it just throws off the vibe of the film.
This movie is not a good look for comic-book films in general and only adds fuel to the fire for critics who are sick of them. It’s also a buzzkill for the comic-book movie fans reveling in the joy that DC finally seems to have figured out their superhero movies after the critically acclaimed debut last week of “Shazam!”
Whereas “Shazam!” was a step forward for the culture that appreciates these types of films, “Hellboy” is a broad stride back.
I’ll put it to you like this: If Shazam, a superhero who is a kid who can turn into an adult, had a chance to use his lightning to become an adult to see an R-rated “Hellboy,” he’d be better off staying a kid and going to see “Dumbo.”
Luckily, the Avengers will be here to save us from this funk in a couple of weeks when “Endgame” dominates all.
In the meantime, to enjoy this story best, treat yourself to the comic.