In many ways, this was already a foregone conclusion, but on Tuesday morning, director Guillermo Del Toro broke some hearts by reporting that once and for all, the mythical Hellboy 3 is finally dead, dead, dead.
The last time we saw the big red demon with the hand of doom was in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Although well-received by critics and fans, the film only managed to gross just north of $168 million on an $85 million budget.
While nearly doubling a production budget with very little in the way marketing outside of word of mouth, many Superhero films open in the $100 million range, and to top out south of $200 million, well that was never going to cut it, no matter how long the producers or performers were willing to string along hopeful fans.
The end of The Golden Army was quite a cliffhanger, as Hellboy’s team resigns from the B.P.R.D. and he learns that teammate and girlfriend Liz Sherman is pregnant with twins. Additionally, there was a cancelled post-credit scene (even before post-credit scenes were cool) that teased the return of villain Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, the silent, clockwork Nazi assassin from the first film, which showed up in comic book form in the DVD’s special features section.
It’s clear that Del Toro had at least a loose plan to wrap up the series, but it takes money to be excited when you’re a studio executive or producer with access to cash, and there simply wasn’t enough in the tank to get the needle moving towards a true greenlight.
No matter how hard Del Toro and his cast, particularly lead Ron Perlman, wanted to make this work, Hellboy, as a whole, has never really been a household name, and even in a climate that’s still hungry for comic book material, the reality is that unless that material is branded with Marvel or DC, that interest is tepid at best.
In a way, it says plenty about what fans really want in a comic book movie, because Dark Horse, the long-time home of creator-owned Hellboy, has yet to launch a successful comic book film franchise of their own. The same can be said about competitors Image and Valiant Comics, who also failed to launch any of their characters into long-term (or even short, if we’re being truly honest).
The Hellboy films, on their own, weren’t necessarily bad, but many of the concepts so heavily relied on a backstory that simply didn’t exist, and maybe that shouldn’t matter, but so much of the Hellboy mythos never really made it to screen, making what you did get to see feel less than engaging, and so the demand for more would be likely met with shoulder shrugging.
It may not feel like it now for some fans of the character and series, but no Hellboy 3 might just be for the best in the long run. If anything, with the advancing ages of all involved, particularly Perlman, the better course could be for Hellboy creator Mike Mignola to relaunch the series from scratch, with a new creative team at the helm.
Guillermo Del Toro, while quite the visionary filmmaker, has suffered from several scripts for his English language projects not matching up to his vision, even if he was the one who wrote them. Much of whether Hellboy 3 would make it into production was tied to the success of another previously hyped project, Pacific Rim, a film that suffered from the same problems as the Hellboy films in that the promise was so much better than the execution, which came down to story.
Pacific Rim made just enough to get a sequel (thanks to its success in the international market), but it’s also telling that Del Toro is not involved, and even more telling that the weak box office for a film people were excited about wasn’t enough to get a greenlight.
Ultimately, Del Toro’s inability to close out his Hellboy trilogy is a bigger commentary on the director than the character. If you include other aborted projects like the long-awaited At the Mountains of Madness and his removal (or resignation) from the Hobbit films, or outright failures like the also-hyped Crimson Peak, people with the purse strings may be getting tired of Del Toro simply not living up to expectations.
It’s a shame that such a visually adept director can’t seem to pack the same punch in the writing department, but the proof is there, and until he can learn to let go enough to base his visions on a stronger narrative foundation, it’s hard not to look at Del Toro as fool’s gold.
Of course, there’s always a chance to turn it around. Del Toro gets one more opportunity with the upcoming Cold War fantasy The Shape of Water, due later this year. If this film fails to register with audiences, it’s unlikely Del Toro will ever be in the position to pick his projects again.
Who knows, maybe that could actually help more than hurt?