There’s a significant moment early on in Hellboy, where the eponymous beast learns that he was “summoned from the depths of hell” by a group of Nazi scientists at the end of World War Two.
It might be an succinct description of his origins, but it’s a statement that could easily apply to the whole film too. Quite simply, Hellboy is a unremitting disaster. Just like Venom last year, it’s hellbent on setting back comic book movies by an entire decade.
To its credit, at least it is consistent in its awfulness. It begins from the moment that a prologue plunges us into Arthurian England, where the corpse of Milla Jovovich’s immortal blood queen is brutally dismembered and sent across the land to prevent her eventual return. It aims for irreverent pulpy fun, but it translates with all the success of an off day at the London Dungeon.
It’s immediately followed by our first introduction to the beast himself, which sees Stranger Things star David Harbour doing his best to offer an original take on the big red bruiser. While his portrayal might be a fresh look at the character, it still doesn’t mean that we’re on board with it.
Ron Perlman first brought a much needed dose of levelled humanity in Guillermo Del Toro’s original movies, but Harbour’s is the complete opposite. He aims to show the darkness that’s inherent in the character, but all too often it becomes frustratingly boorish – and his daddy issues with adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) grow increasingly hard to care about.
Perhaps most frustratingly of all, Hellboy also offers the tiniest glimpses to suggest that there’s a good film buried in there somewhere. The moments that show him kicking back at The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense are among the film’s high points – but it never fully runs with the darker take that these moments are subtly hinting at.
Instead, it all too quickly descends into an indistinguishable CGI fest where plot threads are dropped almost as soon as they are introduced – right up to the finale where the Arthurian connection becomes relevant once more. By this point the whole thing has become entirely nonsensical, and even a brilliantly villainous turn from Milla Jovovich and a dramatic showdown at St Paul’s Cathedral aren’t enough to redeem the film’s final moments.
Hellboy could have been a chance for the darkest of comic book heroes to rise again – one with the potential to make Marvel’s Thanos look positively cuddly.
Sadly, it seems that this hellfire has already been extinguished.