Well, it’s official – Hellboy is rising from the fiery pits of hell to give us another movie. While some will be disappointed to hear that it won’t be a direct continuation of 2008’s Hellboy: The Golden Army, nor will Guillermo del Toro and Ron Pearlman be returning, others will just be relieved that the popular superhero is returning at all. Not only is the new Hellboy already cast with Stranger Things actor David Harbour in the titular role, but director Neil Marshall will reportedly be taking the franchise in a whole new direction with an anticipated R-rating.
From dueling vampires to taking down Nazis, defeating Baba Yaga or even battling Rasputin, the Hellboy comic books have given us some 24 years of particularly dark material to paw over. As the no-nonsense demon with a rock for a right hand prepares to sucker punch his way back into cinemas, we ask why a controversial R-rating could be the godsend that Hellboy needs.
While R-rated comic book movies are in vogue right now, more adult takes on comic books have historically been much more lackluster. Earlier endeavors like the Blade movies, Punisher, and Punisher: War Zone all failed to win over critics, and more modern takes saw similar struggles. Watchmen and 300 had a mixed reception (although they will likely live on with a cult following), while Sin City and Kick Ass were both well received, only for each of them to flounder with their follow-ups, A Dame to Kill For and Kick-Ass 2. After the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies (mostly), Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and a tsunami of fresh Marvel movies, general convention determined that PG-13 was the sweet spot. However, if you look at the more current trend of comic book films that have nabbed an R-rating, we are in something of a resurgence.
First, let’s look at some recent winners, of wich there’s several. In 2016, Deadpool was met with rave reviews from critics and fans alike, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. After that, James Mangold gave us the gritty Logan, which showed us that the craving for R-rated superheroes went above and beyond over the top violence, gross-out gags, and lots of cussing. Elsewhere, the loose adaptation of Mark Millar’s The Secret Service became the bloodthirsty Kingsman film, which looks set to continue its praise with an equally violent sequel in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. If you are planning on creating a violent comic book movie that is faithful to its roots, now seems like as good a time as any to tool up and start rolling.
Secondly, the director attached to the new Hellboy is Neil Marshall – a man who really needs no introduction. With experience in many genres from horror to fantasy to sci-fi, Marshall has all the credentials to bring us a proper adaptation of Hellboy. His work on HBO’s Game of Thrones – in particular, the Season 2 finale ‘Blackwater’ – shows that he can definitely craft iconic large-scale action scenes, so you only imagine what it would look like for him to take Hellboy down into the depths of actual hell on the big screen? It was a concept that Del Toro toyed with, but never really got to fully explore.
Elsewhere, Marshall’s hand as director of creature features like Dog Solider and The Descent mean that horror is also an easy genre for him to tackle. As for those worrying that he can’t give us all the violence and gore we deserve, Marshall is also responsible for episodes of Hannibal and Westworld – both of which aren’t exactly light on the adult material. In fact, Marshall’s Westworld episode, ‘The Stray,’ was dubbed one of the most violent from the premiere season but was praised for its bold storytelling.