“No Ron Perlman, No HELLBOY! PASS”; ” He looks like a low cost cosplay”; “I want to like it.. but if it was going to go this ‘fun’ route then why not just finish the DAMN TRILOGY!?”; “Nooo I’m sorry but this isn’t my hellboy”; ” I don’t know how I feel about it. It didn’t get me hyped.” -the Internet
Friends, pull up a stool; we need to have a frank talk about expectations, and how, if we don’t learn to temper them, we’re going to lose our ability to find joy in our lives. We’ve seen this again and again with the media we love: Battlestar Galactica was met with derision for casting a woman to play Starbuck; Star Wars dared recognize 51% of the world’s population wasn’t being represented and put a woman in the lead; and now, Hellboy is returning to screens with an all new actor in the lead, and (gasp) a new director at the helm. And from the sound of sharpening pitchforks ringing out from cyberspace, the internet is not happy. Reactions to the first trailer have been overwhelmingly negative, and for reasons not entirely fair to the film. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
In 1989, Tim Burton‘s Batman was released in theaters and was, by all accounts, a runaway success. The film brought Jack Nicholson‘s Joker head to head with Michael Keaton‘s Batman, and audiences ate it up. Few remembered the outcry from fans a few years earlier when Keaton was cast, but the letters pages in Starlog and other pre-internet media magazines were packed with an anti-Keaton sentiment. “No way Mr. Mom should be Batman” was the general tone, and if Burton and Warner Bros. had listened, we would have missed out on one of the more eccentrically engaging portrayals of Bruce Wayne to hit the silver screen.
When Katee Sackhoff was cast as Starbuck in 2003’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, online outcry was wildly petulant, as if Dirk Bennedict‘s portrayal of the wisecracking, hard-drinking fighter pilot in the 1970’s was so sacred that re-casting and re-gendering the role was an affront to human dignity. Sackhoff went on to cement the legacy of Starbuck as her own and went on to win a Saturn Award for her efforts in 2006. If Ronald Moore and NBC Universal Entertainment had listened to the uproar online, we all would have missed out on a portrayal of a character that defines what makes the genre stand out.
More recently, Batman fans were apoplectic over news that Heath Ledger had been cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Many fans threatened to boycott, saying that Ledger, (who had already been nominated for an Academy Award for Brokeback Mountain) lacked the acting chops to play the character with any conviction. Ledger went on to deliver one of the most chilling depictions of the Clown Prince of Crime to date.
Let’s not even start on James Bond.
Now, we are coming to grips with a new actor and director team tackling Hellboy, a movie franchise that is deservedly beloved by its fans. When Guillermo del Toro teamed up with Ron Perlman to bring the character to the big screen, fans of the comic were delighted, and new fans were minted in cinemas and movie houses around the country. After 2008’s Hellboy and the Golden Army, many fans were anticipating at least one more movie with Hellboy and his eccentric colleagues at the BPRD. Alas, that was not to happen.
One of the sad realities that factor into the need for a new direction, vision, and approach to Hellboy comes down to simple economics. Sadly, the original two Hellboy movies were distinctly Guillermo del Toro films: visually engaging, lushly decorated, brilliantly lit stage plays brought to celluloid life by a master who understands the tenuous foundations of film-craft. They also failed to deliver the audiences necessary for studios to risk the money for a third outing: the first Hellboy cost $66 million to make, and only made $99 million in theaters… and those are international numbers. Once you factor in promotions, Hellboy actually lost money prior to being released on home video.
The fact that Hellboy and the Golden Army was even made is a minor miracle in its own right, and Universal released the $85 million dollar sequel in the summer of 2008 to great reviews and a stellar opening box office, which lasted only a week before Red and his buddies were wiped off the map by The Dark Knight. On paper, Guillermo del Toro hasn’t been able to deliver the revenue the studios need to justify the cost of another Hellboy film.
Let’s talk about Ron Perlman for a moment. He is, without a doubt, the first person we think about when Hellboy comes to mind. He poured his soul into that character, imbuing what could have been a hokey, one-dimensional caricature into a living, breathing hero that we could all identify with. Somehow, even under all of that latex, Perlman made Hellboy an identifiable every-man that we could all relate to. There is no debating what Perlman brought to the role, but, we need to address something here: Perlman is 68 years old. Asking him to go through the grueling makeup process, day after day, month after month, is kind of cruel. Acting under that much makeup, especially with action sequences, is brutally hot and hard work. And while Perlman would probably play the part again in a heartbeat, maybe we should calm down a little and give him the opportunity to have some fun with meatier roles in his later years. If you’ve seen Drive, you know Perlman is capable of great dramatic work without all of that makeup.
Some of the outcry against the new trailer has stated that director Neil Marshall (The Descent) didn’t understand the character; that this Hellboy was too humorous, or that the feel of the movie wasn’t accurate to the source material. Those are hardly fair assessments, since 1: Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is heavily involved in the production of this film, and 2: Hellboy has always had a humorous atmosphere, especially in the comics, and 3: comparing the look of the new film to the del Toro films, or especially Mignola’s comics, is like complaining that an artist isn’t plagiarizing hard enough.
We don’t know how this movie is going to look from a short teaser trailer. We do know, however, that elements from the comics are being portrayed, and any fan of those works who saw Hellboy approaching Excalibur, or falling out of Baba Yaga’s hut was probably just as excited as I was. From just a few moments of film, I saw enough evidence of real, honest to goodness Hellboy picture to pique my interest.
Now, as far as David Harbour playing Hellboy? He’s big, right? Check. He’s red? Cool! Check. Can he act? Oh, yeah! He’s great on Stranger Things! Check. Maybe, just maybe, we should hang up the pitchforks for a few months and see what this new Hellboy brings to the table in April. And if it sucks, I promise I’ll give you all discounts on torches.
Here’s that trailer from Lionsgate Movies again, for good measure. Push out all of those del Toro induced comparisons, and let this wash over you. It’s actually pretty cool: