I'm sure someone, somewhere, was devoting all their time and energy to hoping that the x-treme, edgy, snottily nihilistic strand of '90s pop culture was going to come roaring back lo these twenty years later, and for that person, I am happy to say that the new Hellboy feature is waiting for them. How x-treme, edgy, and snotty? The first line - the very first line - heard in the movie is this one, delivered by Ian McShane in voiceover: "517 A.D., known as the Dark Ages, and for fucking good reason." I'm not above a well-placed F-bomb, but that's just it, this isn't well-placed. This is what you do when you're 13, and you've just started swearing, and also you get to make the long-awaited first R-rated Hellboy movie.

The first two Hellboy movies, both directed by Guillermo del Toro - Hellboy in 2004 and Hellboy II: The Golden Army - were, of course, much softer, all-audiences fare, relatively speaking. They nudged the material away from horror comics and into supehero comics, while also amping up a fairy tale romanticism in their conception of the title character - a demon raised by humans to fight supernatural evil - and in so doing earned the very public dislike of Mike Mignola, the creator of the comic book upon which all three of these were based. It was through Mignola's intervention that this project, once imagined as a Hellboy III but since refashioned into a relaunch of the character, was to be a del Toro-free affair that drew much more closely on the source material. And I'll admit freely that I don't know the source material at all, and maybe the fans who felt put out by the movies 15 and 11 years ago will find this scratches exactly the itch they've been trying to reach for a decade and change.

For the rest of us, the del Toro films represent an awfully high bar to clear. Not that either one of them was in any way perfect, but they're long on passion and immediately Γ₯vailable emotions, and they're even longer on wildly creative design. They're scruffy, personal jobs, imperfect in part because of the uncritical love that went into them. One might use any one of a great many adjectives to describe the 2019 Hellboy, but "personal" absolutely wouldn't be on the list. Personal for Mignola, maybe, but he doesn't even get a courtesy executive producer credit. First-time screenwriter Andrew Crosby seems content solely to keep all of the very busy plot beats coming in order, while director Neil Marshall, returning to feature films after a nine-year break that's found him mostly working in television, is in pure soulless hack mode. Rumors persist that the project was taken away from him in post precisely because he wanted it to be less hacky, but even with meddling, I don't like to think that the director of the superlative horror movie The Descent - or even the junky but enthusiastic post-apocalyptic thriller Doomsday - would have perpetrated some of the garbage going on in Hellboy if he actually cared about the material.

Anyway, the story thankfully refrains from holding off starting until it explains exactly who Hellboy (David Harbour) is, instead dumping us right into the action of a fairly well-made trip to Mexico, where Hellboy's buddy at the B.P.R.D. - Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense - has gone missing after going on a vampire hunt. The colors are bright and poppy, the vampire effects are, if noticeably inexpensive (Hellboy has just shocking CGI for 2019), at least pleasingly designed, and the humor is... already pretty terrible, honestly. The pacing, dialogue, and even some of the shot set-ups evoke a '90s comic book sensibility like nobody's business, and it's both a little fun and a little tiring, though much more fun and nowhere at all close to as tiring as it will get before the movie is all wrapped up.

Once that prologue is knocked out, the film gets to the business of its actual plot, which has nothing to do with Mexico or vampires at all, and is an unutterable slog to get through. The basic stuff we need to know is that Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich, the best living actor to play a character named "Nimue the Blood Queen"), having been split into pieces by King Arthur back in 517, is being reassembled by a pig demon named Gruagach (motion capture by Douglas Tait, vocals by Stephen Graham). For reasons that Hellboy will only learn later on, his presence matters to Nimue very much, and so he's been tricked into coming to England. Here, he encounters Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), a spiritual medium he once rescued from Gruagach when she was just a baby; he also receives help from irritable British government agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) while the B.P.R.D., led by Hellboy's adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm (McShane), works to figure out what the hell is up with Nimue, anyway. Eventually, that backstory about Hellboy that didn't gum up the start of the movie gums up the middle.

That plot synopsis doesn't begin to get at how utterly exhausting and unpleasant the experience of watching Hellboy is. It is a grueling two hours, in which almost non-stop exposition is muttered out, while each and every new scene feels like it's softly rebooting the entire plot. I didn't mention one huge subplot, involving treachery on a giant-hunting mission, in large part because I still haven't figure out why the hell it was there; that's true of many scenes and sequences, which sure do want to build out a huge, elaborate fantasy mythos, but in practice just lead to a great miasma of stuff piling up. The film lacks even the smallest semblance of rhythm, building up to its epic climax about 40 minutes before the epic climax even happens. I can't in faith call this bad story structure, since it barely rises up to the level of structure at all: it's more like a collection of anecdotes punctuated by really colorful, extreme gore effects. Very builds upon anything that precedes it or points to anything that follows, though I concede that this is less confusing and more colossally boring.

Through it all, the film clings like a pit bull to its sarcastic sense of humor, and Harbour's instantly forgettable performance, which feels almost apologetic, is only good for intensifying that sarcasm. The film's limp stabs at emotional resonance are completely empty, with Hellboy's big crisis of conscience lasting for a grand total of one scene. Other than Jovovich's kitschy energy and McShane's inability to turn off his professional competence, not a single one of the performances feels like there's any sort of interior life behind it. That might get in the way of the film's utterly dispiriting sense of humor, caustic quips that make up in profanity and anger what they lack in wit or timing. It feels true to the '90s indie comic scene, to be sure; it also feels tediously shrill and devoid of creativity. The film's failures as a story, as a popcorn adventure, or as fantasy world-building are all enough to make this dreadful enough; for that to be compounded by a nonstop onslaught of cringe-inducing "what the shitfuck, motherfucker" style jokes is more than enough to turn a merely unpleasant experience into an actively painful one.