Review: Hellboy

It says a lot about this reboot that its focus on an origin story that seems quite different from the one put forward in the previous movies is barely coherent; or that it mostly does away with whatever it was Guillermo del Toro brought of himself to a beloved comic book to make it peculiarly cinematic. It’s essentially a faithful rendering of the grossest appeals of the source material beneath a coating of self-mocking humor applied with the broadest of paint brushes. Ron Perlman was no Brando, but his cagey, wisecracking style was perfectly suited to a superhero who is the actual spawn of Satan and understood the irony in the fact that he was working for the so-called powers of good. David Harbour gamely takes over under Neil Marshall’s direction and the only thing that makes an impression besides his razor-sharp cynicism is that, really, anyone could be underneath all that makeup and body latex.

Marshall is your go-to guy for gore (innumerable horror films, Game of Thrones), and he seems as happy as a clam in this material, which has been written into the ground and gussied up with a lot more CG violence that del Toro would have been comfortable with. Explaining the plot, which covers several thousand years and more than few real life historical figures, is a chump’s game, but suffice it to say that the main fanboy draw is Milla Jovovich as an evil queen who was killed by King Arthur in medieval times. Her various body parts were hidden in boxes in farflung places for safe keeping. When the queen gets put back together again, Hellboy, as the main battering ram of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, is called upon to do the re-dismembering before she gets her revenge on all of humankind. Add to that a secret society of somewhat reactionary royals, true-to-God Nazis, a man with the head of a pig, giants, and Ian McShane as Hellboy’s “dad,” and you get a lot to chew on, so to speak, but most of it is gristle and not very satisfying in the end. One of the things that made the del Toro/Perlman movies compelling was Hellboy’s self-effacing demeanor, and Harbour does explore some of the hero’s more sensitive distractions—it explains his alcoholism, for one thing—but these more thoughtful moments make little sense in a world as resolutely evil as the one depicted. Whenever Hellboy has to rip apart another body or obliterate some real estate, he does so with mixed feelings that belie the glee Marshall conveys in all this bloody mayhem. Admit it, Hellboy, you love killing not because it’s necessary to save people or it’s programmed into what passes for your genes, but because it’s fun.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Hellboy home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2019 HB Productions Inc.

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