Perhaps it was when Hellboy (David Harbour) chased a pig baby changeling in a diaper up a chimney that it fully hit me: What on Earth am I watching? The insanity was almost incomprehensible, though it’s par for the course in the world of “Hellboy.”
The filmmakers are billing this as a reboot rather than a remake, trying to put some distance between it and the hit 2004 version. But comparisons are inevitable, beginning with the opening credits. Harbour takes over the brawny, red-faced role from Ron Perlman, and splatter maximalist Neil Marshall takes the reins behind the camera from Mexican monster maven Guillermo del Toro.
Released from the confines of Westeros, where he’s been toiling as the resident battle auteur on “Game of Thrones,” Marshall tears into the gothic fantasy comic book “Hellboy” with a startling zeal, not to mention a bloodthirsty zest for grime and gore. With this noisy, fast, chaotic “Hellboy,” Marshall is at his most cheeky and most unhinged. It’s certainly … a lot.
Harbour (TV’s “Stranger Things”) is an ideal choice to sport the crown of sawed-off horns as the demon with a heart of gold, an investigator working for his father (Ian McShane) at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Harbour has a warmth and humor that shines through all the prosthetics, and an ease with sarcastic wisecracks, too. The snarky asides, which permeate even the solemn voice-over that opens the film (which starts in yes, the fifth century, with yes, King Arthur), let us know everyone here is in on the joke. It’s OK to laugh with the movie, even if it feels like we’re laughing at it.
Describing the plot of this truly crazy mashup is a fool’s errand. The gist: Monster hunter Hellboy has to confront his own origins and existence as half-man, half-monster while battling to save the world from the greatest monster of all, the Blood Queen witch Vivian Nimue (Milla Jovovich).
Within that general framework is stuffed a rogue’s gallery of ghoulish characters, subplots and flashbacks. To crib that old chestnut from “Saturday Night Live,” this movie has everything: giants, witches, lucha libre wrestlers, cheetah werewolves, Nazi occult rituals featuring cameos by both Rasputin and Leni Riefenstahl. Let’s not overlook Sasha Lane as a psychic who pukes up slimy spiritual apparitions, There’s also a boar-man with a Scottish accent and an iron jockstrap, Winston Churchill’s desk, an amusing appearance from Merlin, mystical secret societies and of course, Baba Yaga.
All this comes straight from the comic, so fans should be pleased at the depth and breadth of the lore in the film. Those who are less familiar with the Hellboy canon might be overwhelmed, as this all hurtles at a relentless, unforgiving pace, glued together with many, many crunchy guitar licks. You don’t so much watch this movie as submit to being pummeled by it.
That might be exactly the time you want at the movies, sitting directly in the proverbial splash zone of a geyser of giant blood while Hellboy cracks wise about the giant’s bad breath. And that’s OK. Go get your “Hellboy” fix, because, despite its epic ambitions, this movie is so bananas it remains to be seen if Big Red will ever grace the silver screen again.