There were reasons to suspect the Hellboy reboot might be what fans hoped for. Its mere existence is controversial, coming as a lower-budget alternative to the long-sought, but ultimately too expensive, third Hellboy film from Guillermo Del Toro/Ron Perlman. The decision to go for a hard-R rating promised to distinguish this entry from the previous series, but could also have been a lazy cash-in on Deadpool's popularity.
At New York Comic Con 2018, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola himself expressed bafflement at the decision for the reboot to compress a whole trilogy of books, and focus primarily on the second one (The Wild Hunt). To the reboot's credit, director Neil Marshall is responsible for some successful horror movies, and two of the best episodes of Game of Thrones. Stranger Things star David Harbour also seemed like as solid a fit as any to fill Perlman's shoes. However, Harbour's performance is one of the few aspects of this film to receive praise in early reviews.
Most critics describe the film as something of a disaster that tries too hard piling on gore while failing to tell its complicated story comprehensibly. While a few have nice words to say about Marshall's ambition, the special effects have been harshly criticized across the board. In comparisons to the two Del Toro films, this reboot is not faring well at all. Here's a selection of some of the harshest reviews of Hellboy.
Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: "The race for worst movie of the year is heating up. You could even say it’s hotter than hell, now that Hellboy has taken the lead. This awful, disgusting, unfunny, idiotically plotted comic book flick offends the senses as much as the rankest subway car on the hottest summer day."
Brandon Zachary, CBR: "Characters travel around England at the speed of light, except when the script demands that they arrive late to try and stop Nimue (Milla Jovovich) from regaining her full power. Minor characters and villains appear and then disappear without warning. Motivations are baked into characters from the start, so we feel as if we jumped into the movie 15 minutes late, only to have everything explained through flashback and more exposition, 25 minutes after we stopped caring."
Charles Pulliam-Moore, io9: "Like two great tastes that somehow don’t go well together, Hellboy’s greatest sin is that it makes you long for the film that it might have been because there’s so much about the movie that works in a vacuum. David Harbour absolutely nails the charming, lunk-ish aspects of Hellboy’s personality, and a handful of the film’s action sequences are legitimately fun to watch before you get back to the slog of the rest of the film. Sadly, those few bright spots aren’t likely to convince anyone that this reboot deserves to be a jumping off point for a new series or doing the Hellboy franchise any favors."
Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly: "I’m not so familiar with Mike Mignola’s comics, and can’t speak to whether this is a truer adaptation than Del Toro’s duology. I hope not. This reboot has the unmistakable sneer of an earlier sort of comic book movie, when the average producer always assumed nerdy source material required serious cowboying the f— up."
Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "It’s lunging to be a badass hard-R epic, but it’s basically a pile of origin-story gobbledygook, frenetic and undercooked, full of limb-hacking, eye-gouging monster battles as well as an atmosphere of apocalyptic grunge that signifies next to nothing."
John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter: "Neil Marshall's Hellboy isn't lousy because nobody wants it, nor only because it fails to live up to both its big-screen and printed predecessors. It's just lousy. Bloated, vastly less funny than it aims to be and misguided in key design choices even when it scores with less important decisions, the film does make bold choices that might have paid off under other circumstances. But these aren't those circumstances."
Tim Grierson, ScreenDaily: "Bloody, and bloody ludicrous, Hellboy boasts plenty of attitude and gore, all in a desperate attempt to seem edgier than the previous big-screen iteration of this demon-spawn antihero. Consciously moving away from the B-movie pleasures that director Guillermo del Toro brought to the franchise more than a decade ago, this remake of the Dark Horse property is a unrelentingly 15-rated action-horror film (‘R’ in the US), casting Stranger Things star David Harbour as the titular enforcer, who is noticeably more hardboiled, sarcastic and anguished this time around. But between the overblown poor CG, witless dialogue and pervasive, numbing violence, the new Hellboy deserves its own special circle in Dante’s inferno."
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press: "Casual fans or the uninitiated are in trouble right from the beginning. Andrew Cosby’s screenplay doesn’t unspool a coherent story so much as violently shoehorn in diverse elements from the comics, overstuffing every scene and only then trying to explain why it’s been included. Director Neil Marshall leaves anyone not familiar with this world grasping and gasping."
Meg Downey, IGN: "Hellboy is a thin, clumsy, and charmless attempt at rebooting a beloved franchise. It's populated by forgettable characters motivated by confusing stakes, cheaply executed visuals, and distracting editing. Somewhere, a finger on a Hellboy fan's monkey's paw is curling up -- sure, HB might finally be back in the spotlight, but he definitely would have been better off left alone."
Leigh Monson, Birth.Movies.Death.: "Hellboy is some very ill-advised cinema, and those who enjoy the prospect of cinematic trainwrecks are likely to get some joy out of this. Everyone else... well, you all know where to find the better version."
Rafer Guzmán, Newsday: "Violence and vulgarity replace the humor and poetry of Guillermo del Toro’s superhero films."
Phil De Semlyen, Time Out: "There’s the odd nifty camera move but the action sequences are often messy and rote. The self-healing Hellboy is able to withstand endless punishment, which may be faithful to Mignola’s source material but hardly ups the stakes. The audience is not so lucky. Hellboy? Just hell, actually."
Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine: "It’s inert where it should be fast, and cluttered and choppy where it should be rousing. Which is a shame, because Hellboy, as conceived, is one of the more interesting comic book heroes we have. He deserves better than this."
Opening Friday nationwide, director Neil Marshall’s Hellboy stars David Harbour as Hellboy, Ian McShane as Trevor Bruttenholm, Milla Jovovich as Nimue, Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan, Penelope Mitchell as Ganeida and Daniel Dae Kim as Ben Daimio.