Guillermo del Toro‘s Hellboy films are two of the best comic book movies ever made…even if they rarely feel anything like the source material. While they were made with the full blessing of creator Mike Mignola, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army are del Toro movies through and through, often discarding the tone of the original Dark Horse comics so the filmmaker (one of the great creative minds alive today) could follow his muse.
And while Hellboy 3 is officially dead and buried and never getting made, the character may very well return to the big screen – a Mignola-sanctioned reboot is currently in the works with very interesting director and a very interesting actor both attached. The news that Hellboy is getting rebooted isn’t surprising. This is Hollywood’s modus operandi. The real news here is that the talent currently attached to the Hellboy reboot seem like picks that will result in a movie more in line with the original comics.
Let’s start with the hard facts. Mike Mignola, the absurdly talented writer and artist who created Hellboy and oversees the larger “Mignolaverse” of comics that take place in the same universe as his crimson-skinned superhero, took to Facebook last night to reveal that another Hellboy movie is in the works. It will be directed by Neil Marshall, star Stranger Things‘ David Harbour, and unlike the PG-13 del Toro films, it will be R-rated:
Okay, here’s some news […] There IS going to be another HELLBOY MOVIE. It’s going to be an R rated reboot directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game Of Thrones) and staring David Harbour (Stranger Things) as Hellboy. More news to come soon
More details arrived from the trades, with The Hollywood Reporter revealing that Millennium Films is currently in negotiations to take on the project. If things come together, that means three different studios will have distributed three Hellboy movies in 13 years. Larry Gordon, Lloyd Levin, and Mike Richardson are on board as producers. Andrew Cosby, Christopher Golden, and Mignola himself wrote the screenplay. Neither del Toro or original Hellboy star Ron Perlman are involved in any capacity.
To be perfectly clear, there are still a thousand roadblocks standing in the way of this movie actually happening. The Hellboy movies were not box office juggernauts. David Harbour is not a star. Neil Marshall, while beloved by genre aficionados, has never made a hit movie. Fans of the first two movies may get loud and bent out of shape about this (especially since they’ve been demanding a third and final Hellboy movie for nearly a decade now). All kinds of things could stop the Hellboy reboot from getting made.
A Different Kind of Hellboy?
While the full story of exactly what went down between Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola has not come to light, the latter’s comments on the definitive death of Hellboy 3 a few months ago certainly imply that this was not an amicable separation. However, he also noted that there still could be another Hellboy movie, one that takes things in “a different direction.” All of this makes me curious about the timeline here – how far along was this reboot when the third del Toro-directed Hellboy movie was put out of its misery?
So, what is a Hellboy movie when you remove del Toro from the equation and add Mignola as a co-screenwriter on an R-rated reboot? Well, you almost certainly get something more in line with the original comic, which debuted in 1993 and officially wrapped up, wonderfully, with the finally issue of Hellboy in Hell last year. However, the Mignolaverse continues to live on other series, like B.P.R.D., not to mention a new prequel series starring a young Hellboy in the 1950s.
Let’s stop beating around the bush – what makes comic book Hellboy different than the version created by del Toro and Ron Perlman? For starters, the comics are a bit less colorful. Literally. Mignola’s distinctive art style, sparse and deceptively simple, feels built to sell big action and quiet moments alike, with a character’s posture often saying more than a dozen word balloons. It also lends itself more easily to horror, while del Toro’s movies are very much fantasies, fairy tales and fables told through a superhero movie lens. Mignola’s storytelling is more stripped-down and spooky, horror-infused pulp that feels like one-part Universal Monsters and one-part Doc Savage adventure. While never gratuitously violent, there’s a sense of foreboding and dread in the comics that was never present in del Toro’s movies, which replaced Mignola’s often Lovecraftian sense of the unknown with humorous and humane quirk.
Hellboy himself is a very different character in both incarnations as well. While Perlman’s performance is delightful, the wisecracking superhero with girl hang-ups feels very much like a del Toro invention, an extension of his geeky, neurotic psyche wrapped in demonic muscle. The “Big Red” of the comics is very much a blue collar schlub, a weary working stiff who dutifully punches in and goes to work every day…even though his work usually involves punching immortal Nazi warlocks and giant monsters in the face. David Harbour, who played Sheriff Jim Hopper on Netflix’s Stranger Things, is genuinely inspired casting for Mignola’s original version of the character. The fun of Hellboy is not that he’s fighting monsters, but that fighting monsters is his job and he’s not nearly as unsettled or surprised by it as you, the reader, clearly are.
A more comics-accurate take on the material feels like a solid fit for Marshall, the director of The Descent and Doomsday, who found himself back in the spotlight after helming several of Game of Thrones‘ most daring and technically impressive episodes. His horror sensibilities align with Mignola’s, but he also has experience making big action and spectacle happen on a television-sized budget. If the Hellboy reboot is going to be rated R, it’s going to need to be produced for less money. He’s the guy you call for a job like that.
While it’s irritating that Hellboy II‘s loose threads will never be resolved, I can’t help but be won over by this news. I’ll always treasure the first two movies as Guillermo del Toro films, but this sounds like an opportunity to bring Mike Mignola’s unique brand of storytelling to the big screen as originally drawn and written. This could be something very cool.
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