WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Hellboy, now playing in theaters.
There are a few actors out there who've become so synonymous with their roles that it's hard to see anyone else playing these characters. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Chris Evans' Steve Rogers are the most prominent examples, but before them came Ron Perlman's Hellboy.
When the reboot was announced, fans immediately wondered if new star David Harbour could truly replace Perlman. When the first image arrived, it felt a bit similar to Guillermo del Toro's vision, leaving cynics thinking Harbour's Hellboy may not be that differentiated after all. Well, director Neil Marshall's film on the whole may not be resonating with critics the way the studio would like, but one thing stands tall in this new spin: Harbour's Hellboy is way better than Perlman's.
Now, this isn't a knock on Perlman's depiction in 2004's Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army four years later. He did a solid job blending a dark sense of humor with the horror and action the Dark Horse Comics franchise is known for. But for all intents and purposes, his Hellboy did feel a bit diluted for its PG-13 audience.
He didn't have a lot of the hard-edged, cut-loose traits we read in Mike Mignola's stories, and it's perfectly understandable because, at that time, Del Toro was trying to cultivate something that would appeal to mainstream audiences. Not to mention comic book movies weren't as big as they are now.
In other words, Perlman's Hellboy was made for viewers who wanted to laugh and enjoy apocalyptic spectacles in popcorn flicks. It wasn't as nuanced and deep, emphasized by Perlman's constant, angsty whining about his love for Selma Blair's Liz, coming off like a selfish, emotional brat quite often. But with Harbour's Hellboy, a lot of improvements are made to create a more compelling, badass and intimidating antihero that outdoes Perlman on every level.
The main positive is that Harbour's Red is someone that we establish a better emotional connection with. He's not disillusioned by girl issues; he's butting heads with his dad, Ian McShane's Professor Broom, over a moral dilemma. Hellboy feels like a hypocrite working for mankind and killing his fellow monsters when he knows some of them have never been given a chance to live among humanity.