The adaptations by Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman on Mike Mignola’s signature comics creation Hellboy grew a loyal fanbase that clamored for more. After a smallish introductory film in 2004 that established the tone of del Toro’s B.P.R.D. universe, the duo returned in 2008 with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which surpassed its predecessor in every way. It was more refined and stylish, mixing the filmmaker’s monster designs and affinity for dark fairy tales with superhero action.
But while Hellboy and its sequel had an undeniable following, that popularity never quite translated to fiery box-office success. That’s why del Toro’s long-discussed plans for a third and final chapter were scrapped, with studio Lionsgate opting instead to reboot the franchise, with a new actor and new direction.
David Harbour was cast as Perlman’s successor, but it wasn’t until this week that we got our first look at the Stranger Things actor as the beloved half-demon, complete with trench coat and Right Hand of Doom. All it took was those two photos — one in black-and-white, the other in full color — to get a good sense of the tone of this reboot. And while it might pain us to say, it looks as if this is the version of Hellboy we need right now.
That’s by no means to take away from the two del Toro films. Both were great, but they were also products of their time. The Golden Army was released in 2008, which you might remember as the year The Dark Knight was released, essentially changing the possible reach and tone of comic book adaptations.
Both Hellboy movies were fun, supernatural action films. While the stories and stakes within were serious, their overall tone was surprisingly light. Perlman’s Hellboy was a fun character; his personality and quirks, from his affinity for cigars to the Baby Ruth candy bars and his affection for cats, were mostly played for laughs, as was his short temper. The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense dealt with all manner of monsters, yet it always remained a bright place, with ample room to laugh.
That was great for that particular version of Hellboy, but our early looks at Harbour’s versions of the devil-who-would-be-a-man seems to point in the opposite direction. We’ve already seen numerous reports that this new film will be darker and hew more toward a pure horror vibe (Neil Marshall, who made his directorial debut in 2002 with the horror-comedy Dog Soldiers, is behind the camera), which is exactly the right way to separate it from the previous franchise.
The photos of Harbour’s Hellboy already speak volumes about what to expect from his character. Sure, he might keep all of his endearing traits, but this is a Hellboy who has seen his share of darkness. He appears to be scarred and battle-hardened; he’s more raw, animalistic, and appears to be even more dangerous than his predecessor. The black-and-white image gives the character even more of a surreal look, albeit one that manages to walk the line of being plausible, like he stepped right out of a book on demonology. Essentially, he looks like a real monster, as Hellboy should.
Comparing Harbour’s Hellboy to Perlman’s, it’s apparent the previous incarnation had a brightness that was reflected in the design of the hero. As a half-demon fighting on the side of good, Big Red is not short on the duality of light and darkness. He knows where he comes from, he knows his ultimate purpose, but he fights against it, choosing instead to protect humanity, choosing good. Perlman’s skin tone was more cartoonish: a bright red, that was highlighted by the shining white of his big grin. He looked less like a creature from Hell and more like a friendly monster. By contrast, Harbour’s Hellboy is a walking reflection of his duality. The clear visibility of the darkness he hails from will clash more with his endearing nature, making this Hellboy more of a fully realized character rather than lovable caricature.
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