Earlier this week, writer / artist Mike Mignola announced on Facebook that a new deal was in the works to bring his comic Hellboy back to the big screen. This is welcome news for fans of the character, but it does suggest we’ll never get to see director Guillermo del Toro complete his own cinematic Hellboy trilogy, even after years of trying to get a third installment to the series off the ground.
Mignola’s Hellboy is a long-running series published by Dark Horse Comics, following a demon named Hellboy and his allies as they fight various supernatural creatures and conspiracies. The series blends Lovecraftian-style cosmic horror with the stylings of superhero adventures.
The character became a passion project for del Toro, who directed his first adaptation (loosely based off of the first graphic novel, Seed of Destruction) with Ron Perlman as the titular character in 2004, with a follow-up, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, in 2008. Del Toro also served as creative producer on a pair of direct-to-DVD animated films staring some of the film’s cast, Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron. Since then, del Toro and Perlman often said that they wanted to complete their live-action cinematic arc with one last film. In February, however, del Toro noted that the door had closed on that plan, and news that the franchise will be rebooted is certainly the final nail in that particular coffin.
But as disappointing as that news is for fans of the first two films, a series reboot is still an exciting opportunity. Hellboy suits del Toro perfectly — the design he brought to those two live-action films is phenomenal — but the series has always been a slightly difficult sell. Hellboy isn’t a traditional superhero adaptation. He’s a demon raised to help humans against other demons, fighting against supernatural cults and fantastical creatures. He’s a weirder, darker, less approachable hero than the familiar crime-fighters in Marvel and DC’s respective stables.
And while del Toro has shot some amazingly beautiful and nerdy films, his movies always feel like they’re slightly out of step with the general filmgoing public. He’s deeply invested in genre, and his films usually play with the conventions of horror fiction in ways that hardcore fans immediately get, but which usually require some explanation for others who aren’t so invested in the subject matter. Finally, given the almost 10-year gap between Hellboy films at this point, a reboot is probably the best financial decision for the franchise, especially because del Toro isn’t known for making inexpensive projects.
So with Hellboy destined for a reset, what can we expect? The reboot has signed Neil Marshall as a director, and he has a solid track record in genre work. He helmed the well-regarded horror film The Descent, and he’s directed episodes of Game of Thrones, Hannibal, and Westworld. (He’s currently working on Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space.) David Harbour has his own respectable resume, most recently playing Stranger Things’ Jim Hopper. His gruff, solid presence seems fitting for Hellboy, although surpassing Ron Perlman would be a tall order.
But the film landscape has changed considerably since the first Hellboy film hit theaters in 2004. The Marvel Cinematic universe was still half a decade away back then, and the dozens of comic book properties that have hit theaters and television since then have given filmmakers and writers a solid path to follow when it comes to their adaptations. It’s easy to make the case for another go at the character: comics are still a solid bet, and Hellboy, with its 14 graphic novels, plus tie-in series such as Lobster Johnson and B.P.R.D., presents filmmakers with a rich collection of adaptable material. Marvel and DC Comics have found enormous success in building huge, interconnected worlds with their comic properties, and Hellboy could certainly open the door to a Mignola cinematic universe, one that sets itself apart from the rest of the pack with its focus on cosmic horror.
Still, not everything has to be thrown out from del Toro’s take on the character. As the series progressed, its increasingly complicated story focused on the ways Hellboy wrestled with the conflict between his nature as a demon and his desire to break away from that nature. The first two Hellboy films drew out that story in interesting ways, and any sort of franchise based off of the comics would need to put the character’s struggles first and foremost, with the trappings of Mignola’s comic universe supporting that. Hopefully, with a fresh start, this rebooted version will be a success, and will help fill the hole left by the last series.