With Pacific Rim coming out in a matter of days, director Guillermo del Toro and his long-time collaborator buddy Ron Perlman have been making the press rounds. Naturally, the question of Hellboy 3 has come up. The good news is they both want to do it, and the timing may be right as far as studios handing over the budget needed, especially if Pacific Rim ends up being the satisfying, successful blockbuster this summer desperately needs. Sorry, looking at you Man of Steel.
People aren’t just clamoring for Hellboy because they enjoyed the first two and they want more of the same. The Hellboy story still needs to be finished. Well, technically the story of Hellboy could go on endlessly, as it has roots in adventure serials, detective novels, and of course, comic books. All of which are more episodic in nature (more on this shit later). I’d gladly pay to see Ron Perlman and Doug Jones be supernatural buddy cops and fight new and interesting foes until the end of time, but Del Toro clearly has an ending for the series in mind. Each movie so far has foreshadowed a very clear finale for the movie: they have mentioned that Hellboy’s true destiny is to destroy the earth. A final movie in the trilogy could not only provide closure to the series, but it could give del Toro a chance to perfect the amazing mish-mash of genres that is Hellboy.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hellboy films. Hellboy 2 has so much imagination, heart, and humor packed into it it’s astounding. But I was watching some Hellboy special features where Guillermo del Toro was explaining what first drew him to the character in the first place, and something he said stuck out to me. He said, “It’s like if an X-file was investigation X-files.”
Which got me thinking about an aspect of Hellboy we have yet to see. We haven’t gotten a great sense of him just doing his job–day-in and day-out. There are plenty of ways to show this, but it might be helpful to take a cue from classic detective and adventure movies. Like I said before, Hellboy at its core is just a great adventure/detective story. Think about the gold standard for all adventure movies: Indiana Jones. The opening of each film (except maybe Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I think?) has Indy on a mission searching for an item that is unrelated to the film’s main plot. The golden idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in Temple of Doom the ashes of an emperor, and in The Last Crusade young Indy is trying to retrieve the cross of Coronado. Sure, each opening segment introduces important characters and themes, but the point is, the unrelated openings show that Indy does this shit all the time, and he’s good as fuck at it. A detective/private eye movie does the same thing. Take one of the gold standards of that genre: Chinatown. The film starts with the main character, Jake, investigating a run-of-the-mill case. We see how he handles himself, how he conducts his work, and that he is clearly too skilled and overqualified for such a simple job. By the time the film’s main conflict is introduced, the audience is completely on board, and shares in Jake’s curiosity about a high-profile new case.
Starting a film like with the character already in the middle of a job is the equivalent of watching an episode in the middle of a season of the X-files, or reading a random issue of Hellboy. The story stands on its own, but we have an innate understanding that these characters are taking care of business regularly. That these characters and this world is rich with backstory and history. But films work differently. They must work as their own, full experience. Which is why a character as iconic as Indiana Jones still needs to have establishing moments 2 movies deep into his franchise. It strengthens the character, which in turn strengthens the plot.
That’s one thing I think that the Hellboy films have been without. The main conflict is introduced, and Hellboy must struggle against powerful foes to stop a bad thing from happening. Each monster he fights is an obstacle in his path blocking him from accomplishing this main goal. Now, in most films this wouldn’t be a problem, and unrelated plots would only distract from the movie’s main source of conflict. But to see Hellboy struggle to overcome impossible odds has less meaning because we as an audience don’t know what this Hellboy is capable of. Even if we are familiar with the comics or have seen the previous films. Hellboy 3 would be a great chance to see Hellboy and Abe Sapien show off their monster hunting skills to their fullest and really succeed at a task. The audience will understand how they handle things and do their job. Then, when the shit seriously hits the fan and Hellboy and his crew begin to falter, we’ll understand just how powerful this new enemy is.
At the heart of it, this may be just a case of “show, don’t tell.” We are told throughout the movie that Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense are always dealing with some kind of crazy monster, and Hellboy reacts to these terrifying creatures with a “eh, just another day at the office” kind of attitude, but we never really get a full sense of how things function before the film’s main conflict comes along and screws everything up. Hellboy’s job, and his attitude towards it could be developed through us seeing him tackle multiple cases throughout the film.
I think del Toro nailed one of the main reasons the whole concept of Hellboy is so fascinating with the “an X-file investigating X-files” line. The only problem is, each movie has only been one file. Hellboy 3 could be an opportunity to get a more in-depth look at what Hellboy’s job entails, and what his strengths and limits are by seeing him handle two or more cases in succession.
But the bottom line is, Guillermo del Toro clearly knows what he’s doing so I’m not really worried about Hellboy 3 and the future of the series. I’d just like to see more of Hellboy and Abe and the rest of his buds at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense being fleshed out as much as possible, and this may be a way to do it effectively.