Hellboy: The Reboot proves what so many fans of Mike Mignola’s long-running comic-book series or Guillermo del Toro’s unfinished trilogy suspected and/or feared: Just because you can reboot a series, doesn’t mean you should. Just because del Toro, a master filmmaker with a singular vision, isn’t available any more doesn’t mean you replace him with Neil Marshall (Centurion, Doomsday, Descent, Dog Soldiers), a competent, journeyman director who can’t deliver anything except a bland, colorless retread of a justly loved, if truncated, two-film series. Just because you can start all over again doesn’t mean you can or should revisit the title character’s origin story, via flashback or not. Killing Nazis is fine, of course, but killing Nazis while reminding everyone sitting in a darkened movie theater of del Toro’s far superior take on the same material isn’t. And just because you promise fans that you’ll deliver a hard R-rated film doesn’t mean you should go all out on the gratuitous blood and gore – and even if you do, for the love of all things unholy, stay away from blood and gore of the CGI kind.
When we meet the “new” Hellboy (David Harbour credibly replacing Ron Perlman), he’s 75 going on 15, a temperamental teen trapped in an oversized, red-skinned body armed with the so-called “Fist of Doom.” He swears too much and drinks too much. He’s also started to question whether saving homo sapiens from his own, possibly misunderstood kind (demons and other assorted monsters) should be his life’s work, his life’s goal. Briefly, Hellboy: The Reboot raises the possibility that the title character just might be aware that he’s a comic-book character, doomed until eternity – or until book sales drop beyond a certain, profit-generating point – to maim and kill, love and lose, and save the Earth’s inhabitants from a fate worse than death. Just as quickly, Hellboy: The Reboot slams the door on that possibility, opting instead for Hellboy to lose a colleague-turned-Mexican-wrestler-turned-vampire in a match he doesn’t want to fight before getting tapped to go on a super-secret mission for his adoptive father, Professor Trevor Broom (Ian McShane), to battle people-eating giants in England.
That particular mission also goes awry, leaving Hellboy feeling betrayed by the people he’s sworn to protect X-Men-style, but saved at the last moment by an old acquaintance, Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), a powerful spiritual medium who can conveniently speak to the dead often in gruesome fashion (the dead literally pull her intestines from her insides and into the open air, a not-quite-great visual effect hampered by obvious budget issues). While Hellboy and Alice bond as potential, future colleagues, Broom dispatches a detachment of soldiers from the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) led by the monster-hating Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) to recover Hellboy and assist on their next, bigger mission: defeating Nimue / The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), a centuries-old, deathless witch eager to recover the various, dismembered parts of her body so she can try to make the world safe again for monsters of all kinds (at the expense of humans, of course).
Once Nimue gets a look at Hellboy, her plans change. She sees Hellboy – prophesized to usher in the apocalypse and rule what’s left of the resulting hellscape – as not just a means to an end, but a potential ally and the demon king to her blood queen. Unfortunately, Nimue spends the better part of Hellboy: The Reboot’s running time in a less powerful, semi-dismembered state (again, ruined by some of the most lackluster and over-obvious visual effects in recent memory) while her associate, Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham), a bipedal, boar-man, tries to find her missing parts all while plotting to take down Hellboy, the demon warrior he blames for his current outsider predicament. The quest for Nimue’s body parts takes far too long, ultimately muting her reappearance and/or reemergence as a serious threat to bring world destruction (mostly a few streets in London, again thanks to budgetary constraints). Credited to Andrew Cosby, the by-the-numbers, subpar script gives Nimue almost nothing to do except – insert multiple yawns here – pontificate about getting her vengeance on humankind for the centuries she’s spent dismembered strewn around England.
Nimue’s goals – aside from the blatantly gratuitous, under-rendered CG blood and gore – show a distinct lack of imagination, a distinct lack of creativity, especially when del Toro’s truncated, two-film series (a) exists and (b) can be streamed at a moment’s notice. Del Toro’s Hellboy saved the world from not one, but two apocalypses in the short series, but he also did it with massive amounts of style and if you looked close enough, substance too. Del Toro’s visual imagination – born out of a lifelong, unironic passion for monsters of all shapes and sizes (wonderfully practical too) – remains unparalleled among horror directors, so it’s unsurprising Hellboy: The Reboot suffers from a combination of déjà vu and unoriginality. Only in the final moments when a mini-apocalypse appears to wreak minor amounts of property damage and (CGI) civilian casualties does Hellboy: The Reboot briefly comes alive, giving us a glimpse of what could and should have been. Even then, though, poor CGI all but turns what should have been scenes of sheer horror and terror into the equivalent of videogame cut scenes, cut scenes we want to end so we can get on with it and actually play the videogame.