A common refrain in film criticism these days is that there are too many superhero franchises. Studios’ nonstop efforts to launch new cinematic comic-book brands have choked theaters to the point where you can barely enter a multiplex without knocking over a cardboard standee of a caped crusader or two. Now the glut has reached the level of more specific complaints: There aren’t just too many superhero franchises; there are also too many Hellboy franchises. For some ungodly reason, Mike Mignola’s cult series for the indie label Dark Horse Comics—which was already beautifully adapted for the big screen by Guillermo del Toro—is back in the hands of a new creative team, which does an awful job of justifying its return.
Hellboy—a 7-foot-tall red behemoth with filed-down horns and an oversize, rocky right hand—is undoubtedly an arresting figure to lead a movie with. As played by Ron Perlman in del Toro’s two films (released in 2004 and 2008), he was a solid match for the director’s love of monster movies and heroic outcasts. Hellboy was a wisecracking but gentle giant who wrestled with his own demonic impulses while trying to save the planet from whatever supernatural hordes were threatening it. But in the 2019 reboot, directed by the British horror specialist Neil Marshall (who made The Descent, Doomsday, and two of Game of Thrones’ most epic installments), all the gentleness has been shorn off. The end result is an R-rated slog that’s heavy on bad attitude and creative dismemberments, and completely missing the humane core of Mignola’s original story.