“Why Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy Will Be Missed.”
By Daniel Dockery
Recently, we got the news that Neil Marshall, who directed The Descent and pointed a camera at things in Doomsday, would be helming a reboot of the Hellboy franchise. David Harbour, aka Punch Cop from Stranger Things, would be playing Hellboy. This isn’t bad news. Harbour was one of the many great parts of Stranger Things, and he has a gruff, affable charisma that will probably lend itself well to the demon with the big red right hand. And Marshall is, even at his worst, a competent director with a solid grasp on tone and moments where people get their limbs forcefully amputated.
However, it is weird news. Mainly because, even when most superhero films go through various reboots, Hellboy always seemed kind of set in stone. It was Guillermo del Toro’s baby, and when he couldn’t get the third part to his trilogy made, I naively assumed that that was it. We’d get a Hellboy remake one day, but for right now, Hellboy was going to exist as a series that had definitely and tragically ended early. I know. Hollywood is mostly made up of people that would greenlight a Chef Boyardee film if there was sequel potential. To think that Hellboy wouldn’t be swiftly re-adapted as another movie at any time was ignoring how an entire business operates.
So, rather than wallow in the death of a series that I would’ve loved to see a third entry to, I want to celebrate Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy duology. I don’t know if del Toro was the perfect director for Hellboy, but even if he didn’t “capture” some parts of the character or the character’s world that were mainstays in the comics, he obviously had an intense love and sympathy for it. del Toro’s Hellboy was a world of freaks trying to find some semblance of family, whether that meant being a tool of the government, or a pawn of an evil sorcerer, or a member of a group of other freaks. del Toro’s Hellboy films displayed a sincere, goofy tenderness that we rarely see in the superhero genre outside of Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films, or Batman Returns.
Ron Perlman, with his cinder block chin and rye whiskey personality, was a great Hellboy, if only because you never felt like he was “playing down” to the character. Despite the “commitment” that they go on and on about, so many actors seem to approach comic book roles with a sense of “Well, this obviously won’t be as complicated of a gig as the dramas I usually do, so I can shit around with this one. And I can afford to do that as I am a great actor.” There was no pretentiousness to Perlman’s Hellboy. Instead, Perlman played Hellboy like Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones. Up for any adventure that the script allowed.
It also helps that del Toro and Perlman had experience working together. Not just in Pacific Rim and Blade 2, but in del Toro’s first feature film, Cronos, which is one of the few perfect films ever made.
I’ve seen a lot of people compare del Toro’s two Hellboy films to Tim Burton’s two Batman films, but usually only in a snarky sense. “You got over Michael Keaton leaving the role, and you’ll get over Ron Perlman leaving. Life moves on.” And that’s true. But more importantly, the two film series are similar in their willingness to not maintain some strict adherence to comic book logic and mythology and explore the aspects that the two directors found most fascinating. Does that mean ditching some other aspects that don’t really fit in the new vision? Yeah, sure. Michael Keaton kills the shit out of some clowns, and Ron Perlman’s world doesn’t exactly leap off the Mignola-drawn page.
But it also means that, for a brief moment in cinema and comic adaptation history, we got something more rare and singular. We didn’t just get an interpretation of the character. We got Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy. We got something special.
more by Daniel Dockery