Hellboy Review: An Underappreciated Superhero Returns to Form

Pop Culture

Hellboy Review: An Underappreciated Superhero Returns to Form

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

The 2019 reboot of Hellboy begins with a wrestling match that quickly escalates to a supernatural punch-fest between our red-skinned, demon-tailed hero and a monstrous luchador-turned-vampire. It’s a fast-paced, joyously brutal fight that sets the tone for the rest of the film, and serves as a reminder of what you came to the movie theatre for – Hellboy tearing through terrifying opponents in wildly imaginative settings.

It’s been over a decade since the comic book hero from Dark Horse Comics made his last appearance on the big screen. In 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the visionary director Guillermo del Toro was at the helm, and the role of Hellboy was being played by the charismatic Ron Perlman. In the capable hands of that duo, Hellboy’s world was vividly realised. The original series had it all. It was steeped in mythology and folklore, boasted rollercoaster fight scenes, and beautifully captured the everyman soul of our demonic hero.

The team making the movies has undergone significant changes. This year’s Hellboy was originally intended as a sequel to The Golden Army, but after both del Toro and Perlman walked away from the project, Neil Marshall took the director’s seat, and David Harbour of Stranger Things fame essayed the lead role. And despite the absence of the two artists most responsible for capturing Hellboy’s unique appeal in the previous films, this newest installment still manages to make long-time fans feel at home.

Marshall is best known for directing the horror sleeper hit The Descent and also some of the most epic episodes of Game of Thrones, like “Blackwater” and “Watchers on the Wall”. Much like the more visceral scenes in GoT, Marshall doesn’t shy away from using gore to put across the viciousness of the foes Hellboy fights. Also, with a horror veteran calling the shots, the tension in scenes with some of the creepier monsters we encounter is palpable.

It was steeped in mythology and folklore, boasted rollercoaster fight scenes, and beautifully captured the everyman soul of our demonic hero

As Hellboy, Harbour channels his blue-collar Sheriff Hopper character from Stranger Things to convey the way in which Hellboy sees himself as just another working stiff, despite his literally hellacious origins. Every superhero has his trademark persona – from Spiderman’s cheesy one-liners to Batman’s goth angst – and Harbour manages to nail the laconic detachment with which Hellboy faces witches, giants, and pig-faced monsters. All in a day’s work for an agent of the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Development.

Speaking of the BPRD, we get to see plenty of Hellboy carrying out his assignments from the agency, perhaps even to the detriment of the film’s run-time. But it is a crucial part of Hellboy’s world, and it wouldn’t feel right without it. Hellboy’s origin story, and how he came to work for the BPRD is also explained in the movie, helping newer viewers understand just why a superhero who looks like Satan on steroids is pounding on monsters instead of humans.

Important supporting characters also make an appearance, including fan-favourite from the comics Agent Ben Daimyo, who wasn’t included in the earlier films. Throw in a helping of Arthurian legend to fulfil any Hellboy film’s requisite mythology quota, and you’ve got a movie that serves as the perfect reintroduction for the superhero, in an age of Avengers and Justice Leagues.

Hellboy might never be as popular as Iron Man or Wonder Woman, but the character has a dedicated fan following that knows what they want. To present a film which feels so familiar, despite having a new cast and crew, should satisfy those fans. Or, just maybe, leave them happy as hell.