BY ROB VAN DER LOO OF EPICA
As I’m writing this piece, many Hellboy fans from all over the world are receiving the very first DVD or Blu-ray copies of the latest Hellboy movie. Neil Marshall’s adaption of Mike Mignola’s graphic novel turned into a real love it or hate it release and was already bashed worldwide before it even hit the screen. This movie was destined to become a box office failure since most “diehard” fans (people who prefer Ron Perlman as Hellboy in the earlier Guillermo Del Toro adaption) made it a sport to take a piss at Stranger Things actor David Harbour, who starred as our grumpy red demonic paranormal investigator. Baptizing the movie into “Heckboy,” people complained about the fact that this movie had too much gore in it, was too violent, had too many unknown characters and storylines, and had no link to the Del Toro movies whatsoever. Now that the whole shitstorm has (finally) passed away I’d like to take a look at the infamous 2019 reboot. Was this movie really that bad, or was it simply misunderstood?
“FIRST OF ALL, AM I A FAN OF HELLBOY? YES, YES, AND YES. IN FACT, I HAVE TO CONFESS I AM A TOTAL NERD WHEN IT COMES TO THIS (ANTI-)HERO”
First of all, am I a fan of Hellboy? Yes, yes, and yes. In fact, I have to confess I am a total nerd when it comes to this (anti-)hero, so let me tell you a little bit about my background and how I became such a big fan. It all started with me being a big fan of director Guillermo Del Toro. Movies like Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, and Blade 2 totally hooked me. By the time his Hellboy was released in 2004, I had to see it. It wasn’t a typical superhero movie. It had a dark tone, dry humor, and the cast was simply amazing. Ron Perlman seemed to be born to play this role, and Doug Jones stole my heart as Abe Sapien. Please note: When I saw Hellboy (2004) for the very first time, I wasn’t that much into comics and I had never heard of its creator Mike Mignola. Three years later, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was released, and Del Toro delivered a true visual masterpiece. Perhaps it wasn’t as dark as the first movie and it had more of a fantasy vibe to it instead of a more slightly horror action comedy like the first one, but overall it could be considered a success.
Like I said, I wasn’t familiar with Mignola’s work until one day I walked into a bookstore and incidentally bumped into a Dutch translation of Hellboy – Seed of Destruction. Being extremely charmed by Mignola’s artwork, I picked it up and never stopped reading. This is where my true Hellboy journey started. From books, collectibles, statues, DVDs, Blu-rays, original movie props to original artwork, I collect them all. I even have my own Hellboy signature bass coming up at the end of this year!
Funny enough, the comics seemed to thrill me way more than the movies. In fact, I realized that Hellboy (2004) only has a few references to the actual comic—think of Seed of Destruction and The Corpse—while the second movie has almost nothing to do with the comic at all. Nevertheless, I was one of many Hellboy fans who was desperately waiting for a third movie. But we all waited for many years without any result. There seemed to be a glimpse of hope in early 2017 when all of a sudden Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman shared a poll on social media asking the fans how much they wanted Hellboy 3 to happen. All the cheering among fans seemed to give hope for a third movie until in February 2017 Del Toro announced on Twitter that Hellboy 3 100 percent will not happen. Just like many other fans I admit I was pretty disappointed…it’s over.
“A REBOOT WOULD MAKE WAY MORE SENSE, AND AT THE SAME TIME THIS MEANT THAT THEY COULD PRODUCE A MOVIE THAT WAS REALLY BASED ON MIGNOLA’S COMICS.”
But it only took three months before we all got really confused (Del Toro’s tweet now finally made sense) when it was announced that Hellboy would return in a reboot directed by Neil Marshall and starring Stranger Things actor David Harbour as Hellboy. Just like most fans my first question was: Why? Couldn’t they finish the original Del Toro trilogy and perhaps consider a reboot later? Looking back now it does kind of make sense. According to several sources, the initial plan was to make Hellboy 3, but Del Toro wasn’t going to do it, and if he wouldn’t do it then Ron Perlman didn’t want to do it either. Something with movie rights, budget, etc. Shooting Hellboy 3 without the original director and main actor wouldn’t make sense at all. A reboot would make way more sense, and at the same time this meant that they could produce a movie that was really based on Mignola’s comics. After all, that was exactly what the Del Toro movies seemed to lack.
After Lionsgate announced that they would release the film in 2019 (with the working title Hellboy – Rise of the Blood Queen) and that it would be based on the comic Hellboy – The Wild Hunt, fans were divided into two camps. 1) The Bring Ron Perlman Back Club (people who only knew the Del Toro movies), and 2) The Let’s Give It a Shot Club (skeptic Mignola fans). Club 1 didn’t even give the movie a chance, and Club 2 was mildly positive about this whole thing. In other words, this movie was produced under extreme pressure, because right from the beginning, the audience had high expectations. Bars were raised even higher when it was also announced that the new movie would be much darker, truer to the comic, and that it would be Rated R.
According to various sources, the production process was a rough path. Rumors say that there were several clashes on the set, and with at least 10 producers, Neil Marshall must have had a hard time. A release was planned for 2018 according to the original teaser poster, but that quickly changed to early 2019. If that wasn’t enough, the movie was eventually postponed to April 2019 for a worldwide release.
The (extremely) late release of a trailer didn’t help either. People complained that supposedly it looked cheesy and that the background music by Billy Idol gave it the wrong tone. A second (red band) trailer gave much more hope with its darker tone. After all, the producers promised a darker, more mature, and truer to the comic adaption. Nevertheless, the reviewers (who obviously were more familiar with the Del Toro movies than Mignola’s comics) gave the movie a hard time. Platforms like Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie only 1.8 out of 10, and they seemed to set a trend by doing so.
But like I always do, I never value reviews and just go and see a movie for myself. I went to the sneak preview on the 10th of April in my hometown Rotterdam. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then you might want to stop reading (if you haven’t done that already). Okay, here we go!
“IN FACT, IF YOU ASK ME, THIS IS A HORROR MOVIE WITH TONS OF ACTION AND HUMOR.”
In general, the story isn’t that original, because we are dealing with another superhero that has to save the world from a villain who wants him to turn into Anung Un Rama (Son of the Devil) and to destroy the world. But it’s all the side stories and special characters that make this movie everything but another superhero movie. In fact, if you ask me, this is a horror movie with tons of action and humor. The movie has quite a high tempo as it starts with the battle of Pendle Hill. Our introduction to King Arthur, Merlin, and Nimue—aka Lady of the Lake aka The Queen of Blood, played by Milla Jovovich—is short and bloody, as King Arthur chops her into pieces. This really sets the tone for the whole movie because we’ll see more body parts flying around pretty soon.
As we get introduced to Hellboy, who seems to be looking for his old friend Esteban Ruiz in Mexico, we are already dealing with our very first reference to Mignola’s work. In this case it’s Hellboy in Mexico. Of course, the story had to be adapted a bit, but seeing Hellboy fighting vampire Camazotz is an awesome way to start this movie. After killing his dear old friend who turned into a vampire and tells him the end of the world is near, Hellboy is out of the picture for a while before he gets reunited with his father Professor Trevor Broom (Ian McShane) at the B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) in Colorado. Little side note: The B.P.R.D. HQ looks exactly like the one we see in the comics!
“IF YOU PAY ATTENTION, THERE A LOT OF AMAZING EASTER EGGS HIDDEN IN THIS SCENE, LIKE THE HECATE SKELETON IN THE BACKGROUND AND A PICTURE OF MIKE MIGNOLA DRESSED AS A HUNTMASTER.”
After getting sober, Hellboy gets sent to England for a mission. The Osiris Club (of which Professor Broom once was a part of) is dealing with giants who seem to be killing locals, and they need Hellboy’s help to slay them. Here, we start the story of The Wild Hunt as in the comics. Again, if you pay attention, there a lot of amazing Easter eggs hidden in this scene, like the Hecate skeleton in the background and a picture of Mike Mignola dressed as a huntmaster.
Once Hellboy gets introduced to the members of the Osiris Club, he also gets confronted with his origins by medium Lady Hatton. She shows him how he was called to Earth during a Nazi séance led by Grigori Rasputin. Again, this scene looks just like it could be straight out of the comic. We also get introduced to Nazi hunter Lobster Johnson (Hellboy spin-off character) who abruptly ends the séance. Hellboy is born and gets adopted by Trevor Broom as his very own son, but also trains him to become a special agent for the B.P.R.D.
Side note: Take a good look at the island, as we can see a satellite floating in the left corner. This is a reference to Hellboy spin-off The Visitor How & Why He Stayed.
If this isn’t enough already, we move over to a different dimension and get introduced to Hellboy’s old enemies Gruagach and Baba Yaga. Both come to conspire to resurrect The Blood Queen since they want revenge on what Hellboy did to them in the past. After all, he did humiliate Gruagach and has cut out Baba Yaga’s eye. Both characters are extremely well played, and the makeup is absolutely stunning. What most people think is CGI are actual practical special effects. This is something that we’ll see throughout the whole movie, and that’s another aspect that divides this movie from other superhero movies. We are dealing with a lot of practical special effects instead of constant CGI.
“YOU CAN’T COMPARE THESE MOVIES. NEIL MARSHALL’S INTERPRETATION IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN DEL TORO’S TAKE ON HELLBOY.”
As I am writing this I realize that I have only recapped the very first 20 minutes of this 120 minutes movie. Only 20 minutes and this movie already contains so many more references to the actual Mignola comics than the two Del Toro movies together! And that’s exactly where one of the problems lies, because you can’t compare these movies. Neil Marshall’s interpretation is completely different than Del Toro’s take on Hellboy. The Del Toro fan base probably won’t understand the new movie since they don’t know the comics. And I can understand that it can be a bit too much with so many characters and side stories squeezed into a two hour movie—it could have been a three hour movie easily. And the comic fans will probably complain that this movie could have gone so much deeper into all the characters. But let’s face it, that would be impossible.
Therefore, I’m not going to recap the movie any further, but I will give you my personal opinion. Guillermo Del Toro’s movies are very artistic, and his director’s eye for detail is absolutely stunning. From that point of view you could say the first two movies are better. But let’s face it, Hellboy (2019) was done with a much lower budget and Neil Marshall obviously had less freedom than Del Toro did.
Having that said, I admit the new movie has its flaws. At certain points the CGI is great and at certain point it’s not great at all. The makeup and practical effects are stunning. I know many people complain about how David Harbour looks in this movie. But apart from his longer hair, he looks much closer to Mignola’s Hellboy. He is bigger, more scarred, doesn’t look polished at all, and is just as raw as Mignola’s drawing style.
Gruagach is absolutely spot on, and Baba Yaga is a bit different but has exactly the creepy vibe that Mignola intended her to have in the comics. Scenes like the horse ride with the Osiris Club look just like they’ve been copied out of The Wild Hunt, and the overall vibe is less Disney than The Golden Army. People complained that the new movie had too much gore. Go read the comics. Hellboy is a horror comic with a nice dose of humor containing many elements of worldwide folklore. Read them and you’ll see heads get chopped off, guts get spilled, and the dose of blood on the floor isn’t exactly minimal. It’s all part of the Hellboy saga. And come on, let’s be honest, no single comic movie has ever matched the original comic, let alone top it!
“GO RENT OR BUY HELLBOY (2019), SIT DOWN, RELAX, DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING AT ALL, AND YOU’LL BE IN FOR A RIDE, BECAUSE THE NEW MOVIE IS PURE FUN.”
So, for all you Perlman/Del Toro diehards, are you still not able to accept David Harbour as Big Red? Then just don’t watch Hellboy (2019) and stick to the first two movies. Are you a Hellboy comic diehard who didn’t like the Del Toro movies and are you also still very skeptic about the new movie? Then don’t watch it and stick to the comics. But if you are now more curious or were you already interested in watching the movie, then go rent or buy Hellboy (2019), sit down, relax, don’t expect anything at all, and you’ll be in for a ride, because the new movie is pure fun. That’s it! If you don’t mind, I’m going to shut my mouth and go read Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. – The Beast of Vargu. And afterwards I’m going to watch a pretty misunderstood movie for the 10th time.