Hellboy opens on a broody, slate-tinged scene. A voiceover tells us that it’s “517 AD, known as the Dark Ages—and for fucking good reason.” There’s a conflict involving one Blood Queen and King Arthur. He not only decapitates her but chops her into pieces and buries each piece in a separate casket. Considering the Blood Queen is immortal, this seems only a minor inconvenience. Why Arthur has a beef with her is anyone’s guess.
Cut to present-day Tijuana, and the story doesn’t get much clearer. Our antihero, Hellboy (David Harbour), is driving a beat-up pickup truck on his way to a lucha libre match to try to find an old friend of his. He’s on the phone with Dad, or “Da-had,” who urges him to forget about the guy. After accidentally smashing his phone in an attempt to hang up—the downside of having a Right Hand of Doom—Hellboy finds his friend, who turns out to be a winged beast of some sort, and kills him. But first a warning: “The end is coming.”
It can’t come soon enough. Neil Marshall’s Hellboy reboot is dumber, muddier, and exceedingly duller than Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original, crippled by a juvenile, curse-laden script by first-time screenwriter Andrew Cosby (based on the graphic novels of Mike Mignola) as well as a miscast leading demon. There’s no other way of saying this: Harbour, an Emmy-nominated actor, looks and sounds like a meathead with long, greasy hair half-tied into a man bun, eyes “yellow as piss,” and a propensity to whine, mostly to his father, Professor Broom (Ian McShane). He can’t get past the idea that Dad didn’t kill him when Hellboy first arrived in this realm, considering his destiny as the king of hell. And he goes on and on about it throughout the film.
Hellboy fights his fair share of adversaries throughout, with Marshall (The Descent) attempting to inject some life into the battles with hair-metal songs such as Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart” and a Spanish version of “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” But minus a strong storyline, the villains seem random, from giants to talking pig-men to a grotesque, skull-y witch named Baba Yaga. (“You’ve been eating children!” Hellboy says to her, apropos of nothing.)
But Hellboy’s main rival is Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the Blood Queen. She’s upset about having been dissected and buried and wants revenge on… someone, or many someones. The more the better? Contrary to Hellboy’s feelings about her, she insists that they belong together. He tells her, “It’s not going to work, because I’m a Capricorn and you’re fucking nuts!” (Also not working: The script’s humor.) Suddenly there’s a plague in Great Britain, which continues the film’s propensity for bloody carnage at the expense of storytelling. It seems Nimue is behind it, but you never can tell.
Hellboy is ultimately little more than a string of brawls and bad jokes, a far cry from del Toro’s charming, witty take on the boy from hell. It ends with the threat of a sequel, an idea that’s as evil as the devil himself.
Hellboy opens Friday at theaters everywhere.