The Hellboy reboot has finally given us our first look at David Harbour in full costume as Big Red. The Stranger Things star takes over the role from Ron Perlman, who portrayed the gruff character perfectly in the films directed by Guillermo Del Toro. The two photos of the new interpretation took the internet by storm, with many fans praising the look and feel of Harbour’s Hellboy, and some were even quick to say that David Harbour suits the role better than Perlman. That’s a bold statement to make, given that the Hellboy films are still loved by many, so how can David Harbour cement his new version of the demon hero alongside the legacy of Perlman and Del Toro? Quite simply, he needs to step, leap and punch in the opposite direction.
The two photos that we’ve seen so far show Big Red shrouded in darkness and intrigue. The first official reveal showing Harbour stepping out of the shadows sporting a recognizable look, but there’s something very different about this new take on Hellboy: he’s ripped. That doesn’t mean that Perlman’s take on the character wasn’t in good shape, but this new hero has been putting the hours in at the gym. Then there’s his iconic red right hand, which has an angular look instead of the curved ornamental heavy hitter we’re used to.
Harbour’s Hellboy has plenty of scars that show us he’s a seasoned fighter, and has clearly been doing this a while. Since we know the reboot won’t be an origin story, Hellboy will be pointed in some brand new directions, and that’s definitely for the best. It means that we won’t be burdened by two beginnings of the character, or have to explicitly deal with facing the reality that this is a reboot. At one point, Hellboy was going to be connected to the original Del Toro films, until creator Mike Mignola realized how constricting that could be. That said, it might be best to just view this new film as a chapter of Hellboy’s story rather than as a reboot or as part of the Del Toro movies - just a chapter from a different part of Hellboy's life.
Let’s be honest: the first two Hellboy movies weren’t as scary as they could have been. Yes, they played with some dark themes, vicious monsters and world ending prophecies but Del Toro held back on the horror and shock factor. The undead assassin in the first film was unnerving and disgusting without being too graphic, but since Hellboy is rooted in myths, monsters and madness, a genuine horror tone would suit the style of the comics a little better than the light-hearted, almost comical atmosphere that Perlman’s films had.
Thankfully, the reboot is going to have an R-Rating which will give director Neil Marshall a chance at producing a truly terrifying Hellboy movie. After all, you can’t use a character like the Blood Queen and make the film family friendly. The sorceress, played by Milla Jovovich, will be looking to bring about the destruction of mankind, and a considerable part of her story in the comics sees her worship the tentacled gods known as the Ogdru Jahad, until eventually they choose her as a vessel for them to inhabit. It’s probably wise if the film skips out the Ogdru Jahad completely – they were a part of the original films and it might confuse some audiences as to whether this is a sequel.
If the film makers are committed to an R-rating, they need to use that to their full advantage and make it as scary as some of the best horror films in the business. Marshall needs to carve out a whole new impression on audiences as they jump out of their skin when the Blood Queen and other Witches are terrorizing the world. And since Mignola also mentioned that it’ll be making the most of practical effects, if someone is having their soul ripped from their body in a bloody fashion then it should happen on screen. Audiences need to see every agonizing moment of what this horror-centric Hellboy world can do - not so that it wipes the original films out of their minds, but so that they can respect where the new film has built upon them.
Then there's the rest of the cast. Another vital part of the comics mythos is Hellboy's work with Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. This key element looks to be staying in the film as Hellboy’s adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm and Agent Ben Daimio will be part of the story. Although Del Toro explored some of the Bureau and what they get up to, there was still a lot left unexplored. The agency has their own set of comics that could be used as the basis for those characters to grow and expand. A character like Ben Daimio, an agent of the B.P.R.D., has such an interesting back story that it needs to be fully experienced. After all, a supernatural Jaguar God murdering peaceful tribes in the jungle has the potential to be visceral and terrifying to witness, unlike the two-minute explainer we got for Liz Sherman discovering her ability to control fire in the 2004 film.
Essentially, the Hellboy reboot needs to acknowledge the past for a moment before striding onwards to a new and darker horizon. It needs to know that the Ron Perlman and Guillermo Del Toro films have their place with the character, but shouldn’t be afraid to push the boundaries of comic book storytelling. Let it flourish as a horror film as well as a comic book adaptation. It’s important to realize that Ron Perlman as Big Red will never disappear - he still exists in the mammoth director’s editions and Blu-ray box sets to pick up whenever we like. But David Harbour is the new Harbinger of the Apocalypse, he needs to prove that he’s not afraid to push the character into new territory, even if that means showing off the character’s insecurities about his masculinity. Harbour has already said that he plans to explore Hellboy’s psyche a little further than Ron’s ‘fun’ performance.
A character-driven, horror-based supernatural adventure from the original creator of the character, directed by Neill Marshall of The Descent and Game of Thrones fame? It almost sounds too good to be true. We’ll always love Ron Perlman’s performance, but a new Hellboy is coming, and the future is dark.
- Hellboy (2019) release date: Apr 12, 2019