How 'Hellboy' Shifted Directions in New Trailer

December's first look drew mixed reactions, but the new iteration is embracing its R-rated material.

Hell has come to Earth (again), only this time we’re ready to welcome it. Thursday night Summit Entertainment released the red-band trailer for Hellboy, the reboot starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour as Mike Mignola’s popular demonic paranormal investigator. The first trailer, released in December of last year, drew a mixed response from fans who were expecting to see footage that lived up to the promise of the film sticking closer to the darker and horror-centric tone of the comic book source material. Hellboy’s previous trailer, saddled by an awful song choice, was stuck in the shadow of Guillermo del Toro, whose movies Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) have developed quite the following despite never being box office smashes. While signs pointed to the Hellboy reboot attempting to imitate del Toro, a controversial move given that del Toro was not able to acquire the finances he wanted to complete his trilogy, the latest trailer clearly distinguishes itself as a Neil Marshall film and it couldn’t be a more promising move.  

Rife with the blood, guts and swearing worthy of a red-band trailer (a rare marketing treat), Hellboy is making a play at becoming the gratuitous monster movie we didn’t know we wanted but now desperately need. Del Toro never felt restrained by the PG-13 ratings of his Hellboy films, but it certainly is nice for horror fans to see some R-rated fury brought to the table. Director Marshall has built up a filmography of cult films with Dog Soldiers (2002), Doomsday (2008), Centurion (2010) and of course his masterpiece, The Descent (2005). Through these modestly budgeted films, Marshall has distinguished himself as a filmmaker with a voice, one that owes some of its rage to sword and sandal movies, creature features, and George Miller’s apocalyptic wastelands. His films are often tonally broad, yet character-centric, resulting in some of the 2000s' most enjoyable genre films that exist just under the radar of popular viewings. Although it’s been nine years since we last saw a feature from the director, Marshall has built up quite the reputation as a television auteur, including helming two of Game of Thrones most beloved episodes, “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall” and Westworld’s “The Stray.” Marshall is a compelling reason to be excited about Hellboy, and the reason many of us found ourselves excited about the project in the first place, despite the absence of del Toro and Perlman. Now it appears that Summit is making the marketing choices it should have led with and finally letting the director take the stage with the promise that this isn’t the same Hellboy we’ve seen before.

The latest trailer for Hellboy looks to blend Marshall’s B-movie love with the sense of scale befitting his time spent at HBO. While it’s impossible to fully divorce a cinematic incarnation of Hellboy from del Toro, this trailer does give us a better sense of the reboot’s aesthetic choices, which look more inspired by the mist, marshes and mire of Hellboy’s European adventures. The tone is not entirely dissimilar from del Toro’s, but there does seem to be an edginess to it befitting the source material. Based on Hellboy comic arcs Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury, the film looks to be stuffed to the brim with cool monsters and imagery. While there’s a chance that Hellboy ends up being nothing more than a bloody monster mash that features Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) turning into a were-jaguar, and Hellboy wielding a sword while riding a dragon (there are worse ways to be defined), Marshall’s filmography suggests that there will be a deeper emotional core at the heart of Hellboy.

One aspect that’s made the character so enduring since his debut in 1993 is his inward consideration of his own monstrosity. Behind his sharp sense of humor, there’s more than a little of Frankenstein in Hellboy, an awareness that he shouldn’t be a part of the world, but is nonetheless. Harbour has proved his ability to get deep inside the headspaces of traditional stoic figures of heroism, and hopefully Marshall was able to bring that out in him again. But regardless of how the film manages its emotional weight, there has been a certain expectation lifted from it in that it’s neither attempting to be a Del Toro film or a big-budget superhero extravaganza. Hellboy, as an action-horror-comedy that celebrates both the character and the versatility of genre films, looks like an absolute blast worthy of Marshall’s talents, and that may be enough to keep Harbour in the horns for the long-term.

  • Richard Newby