Perhaps it was when Hellboy (David Harbour) chased a pig baby changeling in a diaper up a chimney that it fully hit me. I couldn’t help but wonder: What on earth am I watching? The insanity was almost incomprehensible, though it’s par for the course in the world of “Hellboy.”
In this new reboot, Harbour takes over the brawny red-faced role from Ron Perlman; Neil Marshall takes the reins behind the camera from 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 comic-book property “Hellboy” with a startling zeal, and a bloodthirsty zest for grime and gore.
Harbour 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 5th 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 monster mash is a fool’s errand. The gist is 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), who was dismembered by King Arthur and locked in separate coffins to keep her from running roughshod over the earth with her monster gang.
But within that general framework, writer Andrew Cosby has 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, Winston Churchill’s desk, an amusing appearance from Merlin, mystical secret societies and of course, Baba Yaga.
All of 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. You don’t so much as watch this movie as submit to being pummeled by it.
★★ “Hellboy,” with David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim. Directed by Neil Marshall, from a screenplay by Andrew Cosby, based on the comic book by Mike Mignola. 120 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language. Opens April 12 at multiple theaters.