Something feels off within the shadowed halls of the Osiris Club, the headquarters of this secret society ripped straight from the pages of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. Creature remains decorate the trophy room, per usual, from petrified bones of a vampiric mermaid to the spindly legs jutting out from a human skull that rests on a podium. But shelves have been raided, relics have been toppled, and Hellboy — the new Hellboy by way of David Harbour — stands at its center, examining the dead body of the Osiris Club’s resident seer, Lady Hatton (Sophie Okonedo).
Instead of familiar franchise faces like Abe Sapien and Liz Sherman, the beast of the apocalypse is now flanked by Major Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), a scarred B.P.R.D. agent with the lycan-like ability to transform into a were-jaguar, and Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), dubbed by Daimio as “a human ouija board” ready to commune with spirits.
“You may want to leave, Major. This kind of thing isn’t very pretty,” Hellboy warns, shortly before a blood-curdling shriek heralds the arrival of Hatton’s ghost, hovering in a spectral white haze above the pentagram etched in the floor.
Fans of Guillermo del Toro’s two Hellboy movies may think they’ll bow out, too, because this isn’t like the Ron Perlman era of the antihero. But that’s also why director Neil Marshall welcomed the challenge of doing something completely different with this comic book material — something R rated.
“I’ve been attached to this for over two years, maybe even longer now that we’re talking about it,” Marshall says after a long day of shooting the Hollywood reboot in Bulgaria. “I was first approached about the possibility of doing a Hellboy 3 and my response to that was, ‘Well, that’s somebody else’s terrain and I don’t want to step on that turf. But if you were thinking of doing a reboot at anytime, I’d love to do that.’ So a little bit of time passed and it became more apparent that [the producers] wanted to do a reboot.”
Perlman gained a devout following from playing “Big Red” in Del Toro’s films, and ever since 2008, when Hellboy II: The Golden Army came out, the filmmaker repeated hopes for a planned trilogy. But Hollywood is a fickle mistress and the stars never aligned. By 2017, Del Toro confirmed a third movie would “100 percent” not happen. Based on comments by Perlman, there seem to be sore feelings about it.
“I felt like we owed the fans closure, and there were too many people moving in too many other directions and I just couldn’t pull it off,” Perlman told Collider Live last November. “So if you ask me about it, it’s kind of still an open wound.”
Now this new Hellboy, the one screaming at ghosts in his adopted father’s chamber, is the herald of a reboot for the franchise, one that signals a darker take that’s much closer in style to Mignola’s comics. According to producer Lloyd Levin, who’s been involved with Hellboy since the first 2004 film, a reboot was their only option as the continuation of the franchise fell on Del Toro.
“For years, the second one came out in , and during that time the idea of a third would’ve been very very exciting. It was up to Guillermo and he ultimately decided that this was behind him. He was onto other things. So we were able to get a hold of the rights. A third without Guillermo was unthinkable and without Ron was unthinkable so you have over 20 years worth of stories and dozens of characters and it just felt like there was so much more of the Hellboy, Mignola-verse to explore. So we talked about it and faced with no opportunity to do a third, the only opportunity was to reboot.”
A rep for Del Toro did not respond to Collider’s request for comment.
Marshall said he had “a very very brief exchange” with Del Toro when his directing became official. “Guillermo and I have been good friends ever since, he was a big fan of The Descent and we met at a few conventions and things like that. So it was always the case that I didn’t want to step on his toes and I didn’t want to get his nose put out of joint by this. So as soon as it became official that I was on board, I got in touch with him and said, ‘This is something very very different and I just want to make sure you’re cool with that.’ And he was like, ‘I’m totally cool with it. I’m totally magnanimous about it.’”
With Del Toro’s blessing, the Frankenstein-ian effort to assemble a story from various parts of Mignola’s lexicon began. Fans will notice some elements taken from Hellboy in Mexico, as he’ll be seen boxing south of the border in a demonic ring before he’s called back to London to deal with some giants. There will be nods to Hellboy: Darkness Calls, given the involvement of Baba Yaga and her witchy hut. Various incarnations and villains of these arcs were considered for the main story, but Levin consistently returned to The Wild Hunt, which involves Alice and The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich).
“The Wild Hunt is a great story first and foremost, but it allows for an original story, sort of like a backdoor origin story, so we can get into who Hellboy is without the origin story structure of a comic book movie,” the producer explains. “So it felt like a good starting point for a reboot. And it also gets into things that had’t been explained in the earlier movies, as well as the origin. We’re getting into not only who his father was but who his mother was. So there’s more nuance to that story as there was in those early versions.”
The Wild Hunt, just like most other Hellboy comics from Mignola, wouldn’t fit in with, say, a Disney-friendly superhero universe. There’s blood, violence, abominable conjurations, and some light death and destruction. It’s not a coincidence, either, that the producers’ focus on an R-rated Hellboy movie comes after the success of Deadpool and Logan.
Marshall found “so much potential in a darker, more R-rated version” of Hellboy and Levin said, “In terms of the marketplace, it was the right time.”
“It wasn’t an arbitrary decision to go in the direction of an R movie,” Levin adds. “It was, let’s be more faithful to the graphic novel and if you’re going to be more faithful to the graphic novel, it’s R-rated material.”
Populating the characters around Hellboy was just as “organic,” a word thrown around a lot by Hollywood writers these days but one that Levin mentions repeatedly. “We were looking for a mirror for Hellboy on this adventure and Abe isn’t quite that,” he mentions. “As soon as we landed on Daimio as a character, we ran with that.” Ian McShane then appears as Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (a.k.a. “Broom”), Hellboy’s adoptive human father, and Alistair Petrie plays Lord Glaren, a high-ranking member of the Osiris Club. As for The Blood Queen, “she raises a lot of issues that is very relatable to a big part of it.”
“We’re using her to also play into his origin story, his identity story,” Levin says. “She kind of sits on one shoulder and Broom sits on the other in a sense.
Finding a new pair to succeed Del Toro and Perlman was an easier process. Marshall, known for staging the battle of “Blackwater” in Game of Thrones, was one of the first directors approached for the gig and Harbour, well, the producers all saw Stranger Things and loved it.
Per Levin, “It happened to all of us instantaneously. We all watched Stranger Things and it was sort of like coffee and contemplation at that moment. A lighting bolt went off for everyone. ‘David Harbour, Hellboy.’ We all did. Mike and his wife saw the show at the same time and had the same thought.”
Harbour recognizes that the name of Hellboy alone comes with “a rabid fan base” for the Del Toro films. “Stepping into this, I was scared people would feel like it was a fuck you to those guys and what they’ve done,” he said.
“My whole thing is we’re not gonna try to compete with what those guys did. We’re not gonna even play in that ballpark,” the actor added. “We’re gonna do something just completely different and we’re gonna highlight a different aspect of this guy. … I can’t do what Ron Perlman does. I think he’s a genius at what he does: this very dry machismo thing. In terms of approaching the character, I have to do it my own way. It has to be totally different and it has to be something that I, first of all, am drawn to and, secondly something that I can excel at as an actor, which is a much different thing than Ron does.”
If you’ve seen the clips of Harbour’s CGI-ed Hellboy wielding a flaming sword and riding a dragon into battle, you’ll already get that sense.
Hellboy opens in theaters on April 12th. Tickets are on sale now at https://tickets.hellboy.movie/
For more of our Hellboy set visit coverage, peruse the links below: