‘Hellboy’ Is a Gorier Version of Mike Mignola’s Demon Superhero

The present “Hellboy” is the third live-action feature film to star Mike Mignola’s blue collar, heavy drinking demon. In an effort to better reflect its graphic novel roots, it’s more graphic and not as pretty as the Guillermo del Toro-directed predecessors. But for fans of the comic who were a bit disappointed at del Toro’s stylistic cleanup of Mignola’s horror-based original, they will be happy to know this “Hellboy” is more horror than superhero.

Influential comic stylist and writer Mike Mignola first introduced his good old boy/ beast of the Apocalypse in issue #2 of San Diego Comic Con Comics back in 1993. Since then, he has grown to a flagship figure of a wide-ranging series of Dark Horse comic books centered on the B.P.R.D. (the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and their battle against the malignant supernatural.

The comics and both series of features are populated with gremlins, demons, witches, trolls and ghosts. The first two films, “Hellboy” and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” cleaned up the gore and horror of the comics, giving the stories a slicker milieu that had more in common with the Harry Potter movies than with the graphic novels. The work of Mignola (and the artists that followed him) had a feel for rotting corpses, decaying witches that ate children and ancient gods determined to reclaim their fatal dominion over the human race. Del Toro’s vision was more family friendly.

This latest version returns to the decay and the violence. Directed by Neil Marshall, it’s a rougher version lacking the cloying romance of its predecessors. Ron Perlman did an excellent job in the del Toro films but he didn’t go deep. David Harbour is given more to work with. Harbour’s Hellboy is more innocent, sentimental and confused. He has little ambition but to drink with his buddies and make his adoptive father, Professor Broom (Ian McShane), happy.  But he is also the son of a Lord of Hell and destined to wipe humankind from off the earth.  That makes him the target of everyone, bad and good. And that hurts his feelings and leads to serious self-reflection. This Hellboy s more anti-hero than hero.

The villain in this film is Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich). She begins the story with her body parts cut up and dispatched to all corners of England.

Hellboy relies on the assistance of few allies. Primary among them is faithful Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), whose life he saved when she was a baby. She demonstrates powerful psychic powers, not the least of which is bringing the souls of the dead back as creepy folds of ectoplasm.

Daniel Dae Kim is a tightly wound warrior that goes by Major Ben Daimio. Prepared to assassinate the hellboy at the right moment, he struggles with demons of his own. Becoming a leopard-like predator in moments of stress is just one of them.

This version appears to have less of a budget and a more baroque reliance on CGI. Newton’s vision is less graceful than del Toro’s, but much more energetic and raw. Even Hellboy’s make-up is jagged with uneven horns and longer scraggly hair.

For fans of the comic, there’s the pleasure of appearances of the Russian witch Baba Yaga (Emma Tate/Troy James) and Lobster Johnson, who is played with pulpy heroics by Thomas Haden Church.

The screenplay by Andrew Cosby tends to be a hodgepodge of various tales from the comics. The weakest element is the Blood Queen story. It’s not a new storyline. As written, she is no competition for any handful of Disney evil queens or sorceresses.

Her pig servant Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham) exudes a sad pathos. He suffers from having been robbed of a chance to human normalcy when Hellboy rescued the baby Alice. He longs for that life and revenge against the individual took it away from him.

Humor plays a strong role throughout the film. For a demon from Hell, Hellboy manages to share a twisted joke now and then.

“Hellboy” has two post credit sequences that point to possible sequels, but is there is enough promise in this version of Mignola’s creation to warrant further exploration?

Hellboy” opens April 11 nationwide.