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'Hellboy' review: Reboot is a violent, vulgar mess

David Harbour as  Hellboy and Sasha Lane

David Harbour as  Hellboy and Sasha Lane as  Alice Monoghan in "Hellboy." Photo Credit: Lionsgate/Mark Rogers

PLOT A demon determined to do good faces temptation from a dark queen.

CAST David Harbour, Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich

RATED R (Extreme gore, language)

LENGTH 2:00

BOTTOM LINE Violence and vulgarity replace the humor and poetry of Guillermo del Toro’s superhero films.

Before superheroes became the funny, flippant, sometimes freakish figures we know today, there was Hellboy, a cult favorite from comics author Mike Mignola. A burly demon with red skin, sawed-off horns and a sense of humor, Hellboy got picked up by director Guillermo del Toro for two visually inventive and unexpectedly soulful movies in the mid-2000s. These, too, were destined for cultdom rather than blockbuster success, but in hindsight they were prophetic — visions of a future in which everything from snarling raccoons to carnivorous parasites would become box-office superheroes.

Today, “Hellboy” is the franchise that could have been — and, judging by an execrable new reboot, probably never will be.

“Hellboy” shares its title and several characters, but little else, with the first film. Our hero is still a paranormal gumshoe but he’s no longer played by Ron Perlman, who gave the role a crusty, hangdog humor. Gone is Hellboy’s fishy friend Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, of “The Shape of Water”). Gone, too, is Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), the Goth girl whose literally fiery temper sent Hellboy’s pulse a-racing. In other words, gone are everything and everyone that made the first films so compelling. 

Hellboy is now played by David Harbour (Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) as a disappointingly straightforward action hero. He’d be right at home in “The Expendables,” except that his one-liners have a supernatural bent. (“Didn’t your mother teach you not to play with dead things?” he hollers at a warthog clutching a human limb.) This Hellboy has machismo but no sense of romance. The only woman in his life is Alice (Sasha Lane), an annoying psychic whose twin powers are vomiting up ghosts and hurling an obscenity.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Ian McShane adds a touch of class as Hellboy’s adoptive dad, Professor Broom, while a deadpan Thomas Haden Church plays the campy superhero The Lobster. Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-American actor who took the role of Major Ben Daimio after the non-Asian actor Ed Skrein respectfully bowed out, may be wondering whether that was a victory.

“Hellboy” is written by Andrew Cosby and directed by Neil Marshall (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) with a focus on extreme gore. Extreme may even be an understatement: We’re talking about impalements, decapitations, ripped torsos, spilled entrails, you name it. Milla Jovovich, as Nimue the Blood Queen, spends most of the movie in pieces (the warthog is trying to reassemble her). The movie ends with hints of a sequel, of course, but let’s hope not. Even Hellboy’s fans might wish this incarnation would go back where he came from.

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