When you watch a human body get sliced open or pulled apart, computer-generated innards and carefully digitized fluids pouring out like wet confetti, it's natural to feel repulsed. The graphic acts of violence that occur in a horror movie like Hereditary, an action thriller like John Wick, or a fantasy series like Game of Thrones are often meant to provoke a visceral emotional reaction: terror, disgust, excitement, or even laughter. In Hellboy, the proudly R-rated and completely unnecessary reboot of the cult comic book starring Stranger Things star David Harbour in the title role, flesh is torn up and set ablaze, but you feel nothing.
Judging from the disappointing box office results for the film, which debuted in third place over the weekend with a little over $12 million, audiences likely left the theater feeling similarly apathetic about this would-be superhero franchise. In comparison, Guilermo Del Toro's original Hellboy opened with $23 million in 2004 and his follow-up, 2008's Hellboy II: The Golden Army, raked in $34.5 million its first weekend. Those movies had a light-hearted, almost whimsical tone that's largely missing from this ruder, more abrasive version. Del Toro's sense of curiosity, the feeling that every slimy creature and undead beast had a story to tell, is almost entirely absent.
For the new movie, director Neil Marshall (best-known for The Descent and the "Blackwater" episode of Game of Thrones) helms a more gruesome, foul-mouthed take, scripted by Andrew Cosby (co-creator of Syfy's Eureka), of Mike Mignola's cigar-chomping, demon-hunting comic-book antihero. Fittingly, Harbour, painted bright red and sporting a giant right hand of stone, spends much of the movie yelling and tossing insults at other characters. If you squint, you can see how it might have sounded like a good idea on paper -- the character is supposed to be rough around the edges and the Deadpool movies have opened the door for more button-pushing comic-book fare. But Marshall's Hellboy never finds a compelling reason to exist. It only wants to snarl.