ByPramit Chatterjee, writer at
Enthusiastic reviewer of anything that moves. My undercover Twitter id is: @pramitheus
Pramit Chatterjee

In this era of comic book movies, it's easy to conceptualize a story around a character from the most obscure comics known to man, or even to conduct a 'trial by error' method to see what will work on the big screen. Even though Marvel has created a certain normality for superhero adaptations, movies like Atomic Blonde, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Snowpiercer are examples of breaking that mold - often leading to some remarkable projects.

Back in the 2000s, studios didn't bank on superheroes to create franchises, at least not to the same extent they do today. While Sam Raimi created a worldwide phenomenon with Spider-Man, it wasn't until 2004 that comic book movies adapted from lesser-known source material took center stage with Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy.

Thirteen years later, it has now been confirmed that Anung Un Rama will be getting an R-rated reboot helmed by Neil Marshall and star David Harbour as the titular hero. As Guillermo del Toro passes the flaming crown over to Marshall, it's time to turn back the clock and see how Guillermo del Toro turned Hellboy into a cultural phenomenon.

'Hellboy': The Dichotomy of Good and Evil

The constant battle between good and evil has been going on for centuries, and has been the staple of practically every comic book superhero. There always has to be a hero and a villain who embodies the antithesis of that hero. On the contrary, Mignola's Hellboy isn't quite the hero-type. He looks like a devil, smokes cigars and has a potty-mouth (to say the least). This added complexity is where the genius of Guillermo del Toro comes into play.

Throughout the character's big screen debut, the popular director kept Hellboy in a constant state of dilemma between being human and accepting his destiny. This helped us understand that despite his inhuman origins, he is striving for a greater sense of purpose in life. In contrast, the characters who were born human lean towards the destruction of life in exchange of power and immortality.

'Hellboy II' [Credit: Universal Pictures]
'Hellboy II' [Credit: Universal Pictures]

Moving away from the classic good versus evil trope, del Toro's script offered a villain in the form of Prince Nuada. The character was fearsome and tough, but had a vulnerable connection to his sister, Princess Nuala.

Adding further complexity to the situation was the fact that Abe Sapien, the fan-favorite played by Doug Jones, loved Nuala. With Abe Sapien's love for Nuala, del Toro had the audience almost rooting for Nuada so that Nuala won't get hurt by Hellboy's punches. Through these little tweaks in the characters, del Toro not only managed to engage the audience, but also twisted the fabric of age-old notions about heroes and villains.

Hellboy II: Depictions of Physical And Psychological Elements

For Hellboy II, del Toro had conceptualized the inclusion of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man, and even sat down with Mignola to adapt the Almost Colossus storyline, which would have included fan-favorite, Roger the Homunculus. After a few more drafts, the pair diverged into folklore, where the antagonists would have been the Titans from the four corners of Earth - Wind, Fire, Water and Earth. This was eventually converted to The Golden Army, but the influence of these physical elements can be seen throughout the two movies.

  • Water: The opening sequence of Hellboy begins with heavy rain, and the same rainy atmosphere keeps recurring throughout the duology. Due to the presence of Abe, an amphibian, the importance of water became two-fold because although he does breathe air, he also needs water to survive. The influence of water and rain can also be seen in his other movies, such as Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim.
  • Earth: The significance of earth and sand was shown through the anatomy of Karl Ruprecht Korenen. Even though he had a brief backstory in the comics, del Toro showcased the character as a walking corpse full of sand. Another reference was the giant rock monster who ascends from the ground to reveal the entrance to the place where the Golden Army was stored.
  • Wind: Whenever it isn't raining in del Toro's movies, it's usually windy. A prolonged use of air can be seen due to the steampunk aesthetic that del Toro used to give the movies a distinct look. He even created a character called Johann Krauss, who was completely made out of gaseous ectoplasm.
  • Fire: When the word "hell" is in the title, it's necessary to address fire. Be it Hellboy's immunity to burns, his flaming crown, the Golden Army's insides or Liz Sherman's pyrokinetic abilities, fire played a big role in both Hellboy movies.

As well as the world's elements, Guillermo del Toro also focused on life and death, for obvious reasons - and even visualized them as characters. His ingenious depiction of Life came from the Elemental Forest God, which produced greenery despite being blown to bits by Hellboy. On the flip-side, there was Death, conceptualized by del Toro, who exuded a sense of creepiness and elegance at the same time.

Death. 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Death. 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' [Credit: Universal Pictures]

Apart from visually representing the elements that constitute our life, del Toro also embodied the psychological elements through his characters. Hellboy represents the epitome of masculinity and male ego, which often leads to his doom. Abe Sapien's psychic abilities and heightened intelligence made him the personification of intellect while Johann Krauss' deep detective understanding instilled a sense of rationale to the team. This fine balance between the physical and psychological elevated del Toro's Hellboy from just another comic book movie to a respected work of art.

The way in which del Toro's adaptation has been revered by critics and fans alike can be summarized by the 'critic's consensus' seen on the popular film aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.

"With wit, humor and Guillermo del Toro's fantastic visuals, the entertaining Hellboy transcends the derivative nature of the genre."

Intricate World-Building And Practical Effects

In the age of massive set pieces and alien planets being created completely through CGI, it's hard to imagine anyone creating extensive physical sets to give a sense of reality. Guillermo del Toro's world-building and creature generation did require a lot of VFX, but a significant proportion of this was performed using practical effects. This was only achievable due to del Toro's knack of doodling, which allowed his art directors to accurately develop his imagination into an on-screen reality.

Concept art of Mr. Wink. [Credit: Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities]
Concept art of Mr. Wink. [Credit: Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities]

In fact, one of the primary reasons for Perlman not wanting to return to the franchise was his daily make-up routine to become Hellboy. Despite his displeasure, fans have always lauded the accurate representation of the characters while praising Perlman's level of dedication to the character.

The most astonishing feat del Toro achieved during production was when he leased an entire Olympic stadium for the final battle between the B.R.P.D and The Golden Army. This gave set designers the freedom to create large-scale columns filled with hieroglyphics and radiant colors. He also featured an incredibly intricate construction of the Troll Market.

In an interview with Youtube Spaces, del Toro had said that during the movie, the audience gets to see only 30% of the set, while only 5% is interactive. This only goes to prove the lengths del Toro is ready to go to make a great movie.

Guillermo del Toro managed to combine great cinematography, adrenaline-pumping action and relatable characters to give one of the best comic book adaptations of all time. By imbibing the steampunk aesthetic in every scene, del Toro's Hellboy has managed to stand out among its peers due to his unique take on the comic book's story.

Due to the immense groundwork del Toro had done, it should be easier for Marshall to adapt the series and add his own flavor to the franchise. With the recent success in R-rated comic book movies, it looks like Mignola has taken the correct decision to give the character an R-rated reboot with Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. Even though we'll never get to know what a third del Toro-led Hellboy would have looked like, fans can look forward to the director's next movie, The Shape of Water and many more films from the beloved director in the future.


What do you think about the 'Hellboy' reboot?

(Source: Youtube Spaces)


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