Originally adapted in 2004, the original possessed droll wit in Ron Perlman’s snarling performance and considerable visual flair thanks to director Guillermo del Toro. It spawned a sequel, but more than a decade has elapsed since then, with a whole lot of comic-book-inspired movies in between.
At first, the latest “Hellboy” seems as if it might be distinguished by a throwback feel, featuring prosthetic makeup –burying the “Strangers Things” star within it — as opposed to the now-customary reliance on computer graphics. That almost plays like an homage to the bad old days (think “Swamp Thing”), when superhero-horror could still be done on the relative cheap.
Before long, though, it becomes painfully clear that the only really new idea this “Hellboy” has to offer is bloodletting and gore, and lots of them, fully embracing an “R” rating. While there’s a comical aspect to the gruesomeness in the early going, as is so often the case the approach becomes numbing through repetition, until some of the laughs come in the wrong places.
Working from Mike Mignola’s comics, director Neil Marshall (a recent veteran of episodic TV) and writer Andrew Cosby set up the villain before getting around to introducing the half-demon hero and his elaborate backstory.
Specifically, Hellboy was summoned by the Nazis as World War II ended, before being rescued by Professor Broom (Ian McShane), who proceeded to raise him, turning his adopted son into a weapon to repel supernatural threats.
Not surprisingly, a doozy emerges in the form of the evil sorceress Nimue the Blood Queen (“Resident Evil’s” Milla Jovovich). Her 1,500-year-old story has its roots in the Arthurian legend, which seems appropriate, since the movie proceeds to sink like a stone.
Hellboy’s allies include the psychic Alice (Sasha Lane) and secret agent Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), squabbling their way across Europe. To say all hell breaks loose would be an understatement, but by then, “Hellboy” is pretty much running on fumes, sulfurous or otherwise.
Harbour does manage to conjure a reasonably effective performance under his crimson-hued skin and bulging biceps, and McShane is invariably fun to watch, even in a role as thankless as this one. Beyond that, “Hellboy” stalls in its own kind of no-demon’s land — not as overtly satirical as something like “The Tick,” but lacking the firepower to hold its own against bigger guns in the genre.
Granted, it’s not every day you see a demi-demon who’s foul mouthed, bad tempered and guzzles tequila. Once that sort-of novelty wears off, what “Hellboy” isn’t, consistently, is much fun.
“Hellboy” premieres April 12 in the US. It’s rated R.