Last week, the comic book world was surprised to learn that Mike Mignola’s signature creation, Hellboy, is returning to the big screen. As Mignola revealed, an R-rated reboot from The Descent director Neil Marshall starring actor David Harbour (Stranger Things, Suicide Squad) as Big Red will make its way to theaters in the near future. The film, with a script by Andrew Cosby, Christopher Golden and Mignola himself, is tentatively titled Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. Though confirmation last fall that a Hellboy 3 from director Guillermo Del Toro and star Ron Perlman wouldn’t happen, to fans, this is welcome news indeed.
Having marathoned all four films since this announcement — 2004’s Hellboy, 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army and the two direct-to-video animated films, Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood & Iron — we’ve come up with a list of things the previous movies brought to the table that would be a shame to jettison in the character’s silver screen reboot.
Keep Mignola Actively Involved
This, thankfully, is something we’re already assured of happening. Not only does Mignola have experience working in film and TV (famously designing the DCAU Mr. Freeze and serving as a production artist on Atlantis: The Lost Empire), he was heavily involved in the creation of each previous Hellboy film. Credited as the story co-writer on each one, Mignola not only gave each production his blessing, but made them feel as personal and meaningful as the comics that birthed the characters. In an age where the most a comics creator often hopes for from an adaptation of their work is an on-screen creator credit or cameo, Mignola’s involvement speaks volumes.
Furthermore, while it was really cool to see the frozen zombie Ivan look like a Mignola drawing come to life in 2004, special effects can do that much better, now. Thanks to advances in makeup and computer technology, crafting creatures that faithfully honor Mignola’s designs should be no problem for whatever FX house gets this job.
Preserve the Source Material’s Tone
Specifically, the reboot needs to capture the unique blend of pulp adventure, supernatural horror and heartfelt humor that’s always been Hellboy‘s stock in trade. What’s important is ensuring the script finds the time to properly explore each in a balanced manner. The del Toro Hellboy films have tons of action and spooky monsters, but their most memorable scenes aren’t when they speed up but rather, when they slow down. Whether it’s the first film’s tender scenes between Liz and Hellboy, or the second film’s single best fight scene coming right after Abe and Hellboy popping cold ones and talking through their relationship problems, the franchise works best when it blends real emotion with exciting action. Hopefully, Rise of the Blood Queen won’t ignore that crucial aspect.
Hellboy Is A Wiseass, Not A Badass
The most striking thing about the previous Hellboy films is just how much the title character gets knocked down. Sure, he’s functionally indestructible, but that doesn’t mean he never gets the stuffing kicked out of him. But despite his nigh-invulnerability, what’s truly endearing about him isn’t how badass he is (though he’s plenty badass), but how snarky and funny he is. His last line in Sword of Storms is a perfect example of this. “OK, I’m gonna get some aspirin and some breakfast. Who’s with me?” he quips after narrowly avoiding an apocalypse by stabbing two elemental demons and going on a quasi-mystical journey involving flying heads and giant spiders. If the new film even has one moment like that, it’ll have gotten it right.
Keep Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm Alive
OK, this one may require a little bit of explaining. In the comic’s first arc, Seed of Destruction by Mignola and John Byrne, Bruttenholm, the paranormal researcher who adopted Hellboy as his own son and was there when he entered our world, is killed by a frog monster as part of the story’s inciting incident. In the 2004 film, he’s murdered by Rasputin and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen as part of Rasputin’s scheme (although he appears in a flashback in Hellboy II). Those are both touching, horrifying touches on their own–and they should be avoided.
As readers of the spin-off B.P.R.D. comics know, Bruttenholm had a ton of adventures before his death. Bringing that to the screen through either flashback or putting him in the field in the present would make this movie substantially different from any other Hellboy adaptation. Heck, even just keeping him alive long enough to give Hellboy a parent to talk to and have a bond with would be as welcome now as it was when DC Comics opted to keep Jonathan and Martha Kent alive in the post-Crisis era.
Don’t Be afraid To Get Weird
When it comes to the more fantastical comic book adaptations, the Hollywood rule of thumb has historically been to sand things down to keep the film less costly and to be more appealing to a mass audience. See exhibit A: pretty much every X-Men film through X-Men: First Class. That sort of thinking is still present in some corners, but it’s been largely thrown out thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe captivating audiences everywhere by using cutting-edge ILM effects and the financial resources of Disney to bring comic book costumes and characters look as accurate and cool as possible.
It’s way too early to say what Rise of the Blood Queen will do with its budget, whatever that winds up being, but above all else, Marshall and his crew should remember that the universe of Hellboy is a weird, weird place. To stay true to Mignola’s designs is one thing, but to honor his tone is another, and the best way to do that is to lean fully into the franchise’s combination of weird monsters and crazy set pieces. The del Toro films had eye-popping sights like subway fights with immortal demon dogs, and the entrance to a robot army being hidden inside a living prehistoric stone sculpture guarded by a goblin with a truck flatbed for legs. For their part, the animated films had stuff like a kappa that looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and an ancient vampire seductress. As we mentioned previously, Hollywood’s special effects are better than ever, so as long as the production sticks to Mignola’s concepts, characters and most importantly, tone, it should all work out.