For many fans of the comics, it’s still hard to believe we live in a world with any Hellboy movie, much less a sequel and a remake of one. Yet here we are less than one year away from a new adaptation of Hellboy hitting the silver screen. This new iteration promises to be quite different from the original with an “R-rated” take on the character and horror veteran Neil Marshall helming the project.
However, it’s still worth looking back at Guillermo del Toro’s original version from 2004 as the franchise prepares to move forward. Revisiting the very first Hellboy in theaters provides some valuable lessons on what fans should hope to retain and ditch in the new movie. After rewatching the original just last week, we’ve selected a few key items that Hellboy (2018) ought to keep or leave behind.
When a Hellboy remake was first announced, it seemed impossible that any actor might fill Ron Perlman’s hooves in the role. Fans of the comic instantly recognized their favorite supernatural-battling federal agent when Perlman made his debut. It wasn’t the excellent makeup that made Hellboy real either, it was Perlman’s grasp of the character. Hellboy was funny, sarcastic, brusque, and, most importantly, an everyman in this performance.
While the tone and story matter might change, Hellboy shouldn’t become a brand new character in the new movie. For more than two decades Hellboy has developed from an idea to an icon, and that icon is an inherently regular sort of guy who looks and lives in an extraordinary manner. Luckily, it seems like David Harbour is up to the task. His work on Stranger Things goes to show how he can bring normality to truly incredible situations, acting in manner that is tough, funny, and deeply human even when things are bizarre.
Harbour may just be the man to pull this off; it’s still doubtful that anyone could fill in for John Hurt as Professor Bruttenholm though.
It’s not that the original Hellboy did a poor job adapting the character’s origin, but this specific origin (and more superhero origin stories in general) isn’t a necessary component of a good story. The only key elements to maintain are 1) Hellboy has a mysterious and extraordinary place of birth and 2) Hellboy was raised by good, ordinary people. That sort of work can be done in an opening credits sequence.
Refocusing on the origin just adds to the runtime of any future films with little obvious benefit. Even in the original film, it’s too much effort for not enough payoff -- taking ten minutes to deliver about two of quality content. Unless they decide to provide a short movie of “Pancakes”, the classic two-page comic, before the actual movie begins, then there’s no real reason to bring back Hellbaby. It's possible Marshall might have a great, surprising concept that requires revisiting Hellboy’s origin, but if not, it’s best left alone.
One of the great joys of Hellboy comics is the diversity of characters on display. That diversity includes perspectives, ages, genders, and powers. This is one thing the original Hellboy got right by keeping the initial team from “Seed of Destruction” of Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman together. Each character provides a unique personality and set of attributes that expand story possibilities, and make the leading man more likable. Professor Bruttenholm’s inclusion as wiseman and father figure was also a valuable addition.
Hellboy can make for an excellent solitary figure, but this has only emerged in contrast to how he interacts with others. At his best the character is part of a family or team, and his most charming attributes of loyalty and dedication come from working with others. The new film should keep this in mind and select at least a few of the strangest members of the B.P.R.D. to join in this new adventure.
Liz Sherman was never a romantic interest of Hellboy’s in the comics and this addition always felt forced in the first Hellboy movie. It took standard Hollywood rules that require a romantic interest and forced them into a non-standard concept. When the comedic and romantic elements of this relationship work, it’s only because of del Toro’s excellent craft. This is a half-baked notion and one that’s best left behind altogether.
That doesn’t mean that Liz or other women of the B.P.R.D. should be left behind though. Hellboy has many great relationships with characters like Liz or Dr. Kate Corrigan. They are mentors, friends, and comrades. If Liz or Kate are included in the newest film, then it should be in a role that is true to their characters not forced by the standard algorithms of Hollywood blockbusters.
One of the great joys of both original Hellboy movies is how much they pulled from Mike Mignola’s comics work. Mignola was involved both as a producer and a designer, helping to bring his unique vision to life in a variety of ways. It’s his vision that made Hellboy a success in comics and film, and that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked even as the newest iteration tries to make its own mark.
Whether it’s in the look and feel of small European towns or minor story additions (like the brilliant use of “The Corpse” in Hellboy (2004)), Mignola’s work ought to be on the minds of everyone involved. This should also include the way in which the comics artist has fused so many mythologies into his work. The new movie appears focused on European fairytales, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for the new world as this movie dives into the old.
You may agree or disagree with some of the points made so far, but there’s one issue with the original Hellboy film that is not up for argument: John Myers sucks. Myers is the new FBI recruit forced into the story to act as an audience surrogate. He stumbles through the movie asking questions and being overwhelmed by the action, while more interesting things continue to happen in spite of his presence. He’s part of the “Hollywood formula” that also forced the Liz and Hellboy romance, but one that never functions in any capacity.
If the years since the release of Hellboy in 2004 have taught us anything, it’s that audiences are prepared to embrace weird, wild worlds of superheroes and the supernatural. We don’t require a baby-faced know-nothing to ask questions for us and force characters to explain themselves. The third Hellboy movie should recognize this fact and embrace its own strange nature without excuse or explanation. Leave John Myers behind, hopefully dead and buried.