Reboots are a strange thing. Hated and reviled, there are certainly more instances of them NOT working as opposed to winning what should be a built-in audience over. Horror, in particular, is a hard sell. We’ve had our major franchises get the treatment and there are plenty more in the works (Child’s Play). While a vast majority of them stalled and sunk (2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, anyone?) a few soared (2017’s IT).
The Hellboy property straddles a line that has often left it languishing with moviegoers. It’s a superhero film that has far less emphasis on the chiseled chin and cheekbones of the superman archetype and more focus on the idea of purpose, destiny and ultimately what to do with a power that defines you, yet betrays everything you thought you knew. For superhero fans it falls mighty far left of most conventions and is hard to pigeonhole into the tight vinyl and playboy-come-philanthropist roles that have become the staple of the industry. For horror fans, again, it represents a dark fantasy with a moral compass and heart that truly belongs in the pages of a panel-to-panel graphs novel, even if the themes are decidedly those of monster movies with fangs, and ones devoid of capes.
The Del Toro Hellboy films, although not financial successes per se’ were character-defining action set-pieces that proved Del Toro’s visions could adeptly be overlaid on an existing property.. and WORK. Those two films are as rewatchable for me as most of the MCU is for a lot of fans. They have heart and soul and hint at a larger world that is both terrifying and fascinating.
2019’s Hellboy suffered the critical and financial deathblow it did, I believe, based not on it trying to emulate the Del Toro films, OR even trying to distance itself. Quite simply, 2019’s Hellboy was its own vision, and although it it might have landed sour on the lips and eyes of the masses, was, in this reviewers opinion, a whole sloppy, stinky ham-fisted SHIT-TON OF FUN.
Harbour dissolves completely into the role and much like Perlman when he donned the red makeup and horns, there is never a moment when you are watching the actor and not the character. There is as much heart and ultimately, self loathing present here as in the original iteration and it goes a long way to endearing ourselves to the titular character once the primary story arc gets under way.
This story arc, like most superhero faire, both time tested and decidedly conventional, is about the end of the world as we know it, both metaphorically and literally. An ancient Queen (Mia Jovovich) is resurrected to exact her vengeance on the humans that put her into the ground prematurely… in several pieces. This plot, like so many that has come before it is not altogether new OR, in most cases nowadays, all that engaging…WHICH…interestingly brings me to the crux of why I enjoyed Hellboy as much as I did: Sometimes, you gotta enjoy the destination, in spite of the journey.
Hellboy hits the ground running and not only do we see a number of different locations but we see so much in the span of 2 hours that if I did have a complaint, it is also one that falls squarely on the shoulders of its main strength; Hellboy rarely takes time to stop and breathe, moving at such a pace that the 2 hours seldom takes a moment to linger with our characters. It is, however a small price to pay to see a Hellboy film that includes Hellboy fighting a masked vampire wrestler in Tijuana, a free-for-all throwdown with bloodthristy giants and BUCKETS of blood as London sees an apocalyptic hell-on-earth complete with monstrous hell-beasts literally wearing dead humans as leg-warmers (do I shit you? No, indeed I shit you not)
Harbour, McShane and company give us a very different vision of the character and his world, let’s just hope they’re given a chance to expand upon it.