Ron Perlman is on a warpath. The sixty-five year old American actor is fighting with every ounce of energy he has in his bulky, intimidating frame. He will not give up. He will not surrender. He will not stop until his demands are met. And he wants your help.
For the past six years, there has been no conclusion, no closure, and no justice received for Perlman’s cause, that of getting the third film in the Hellboy franchise produced, shot, and distributed to a legion of fans decidedly clamoring for the return of everyone’s favorite vigilante demon. Despite numerous campaigns on social media to raise awareness and enthusiasm for the project, the mainstream movie going audience at large has turned a blind eye to Perlman and his fans. Seemingly, no one cares whether or not Perlman’s voice is heard, no matter how impressive a figure his profile might cast on the silver screen.
Despite becoming an increasingly indispensable actor on television and film over the course of his thirty-five years in the business, Perlman is often dismissed, ignored, and forgotten when big budget studios think about what film projects and productions they want to finance, support, and distribute. Perlman, in effect, has become an underdog, a cult actor in his own right, his most recognizable roles, whether it be on the George R.R. Martin penned Beauty and the Beast television drama, or as the brooding leader of a notorious motorcycle gang on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, have held a singular appeal largely subsidiary and just-out-of-frame in terms of mass market appeal. Hellboy may have its fan base, but its standing as a superhero genre feature is decidedly second-class, its singularity as an independent property denying the meta-narrative structure of the increasingly more popular Marvel Studios business model.
Despite supporting a cast full of original comic book characters inhabiting a fictive universe all their own, the Hellboy feature film franchise has always taken a back seat to some of the more obviously visible comic book capers and caped crusaders to grace the silver screen in the last fifteen years. The first Hellboy film, released in 2004, saw immediate competition against Sony Pictures Spider-Man 2, an already successful franchise riding on the back of an already well known and much beloved property, and which overshadowed Perlman’s entry into the superhero genre that summer.
Even with critically lauded director Guillermo del Toro at the helm, the Dark Horse Comics feature franchise has always struggled to overcome various action packed behemoths. Its sequel, The Golden Army, which was subsequently released in 2008, struggled against the competition represented that summer by the first installment of Marvel Studios’ Iron Man, and Christopher Nolan’s dark, revisionist take on the Batman character in The Dark Knight, in addition to other more successful independently backed properties, such as Disney and Pixar’s Wall-E, and the Ben Stiller directed, Hollywood satire, Tropic Thunder. Despite critical applause and a significant chorus of the Hellboy faithful, The Golden Army was largely overshadowed by many of the other genre features released in the same year, and has largely been forgotten by the mainstream, the third and final chapter of Guillermo del Toro’s dark fable an increasingly unlikely possibility in American cinema.
Which begs the question of whether or not crowd support can ever truly work in terms of garnering acknowledgement from the studios in charge of getting films the visibility required for production and distribution. Is there enough of an audience for a third Hellboy feature to substantiate studio funding of any kind? Or is Perlman’s cause a lost one, mired in the naïveté of fan boys and the blindly faithful, the actor’s fan base an anomaly amidst a larger audience of viewers otherwise disinterested and unaware of Hellboy’s beleaguered existence?
In light of the most recent Uwe Boll incident, perhaps Perlman’s crusade across social media is a lost cause originating in the ego of one man who should simply move on to other projects with more dependable financial backing and the potential for larger monetary returns. Perlman is certainly not hurting in terms of landing other roles of substance and potential artistic growth, so why belabor the inevitable? Why not simply concede that there will never be a third Hellboy film, and be done with it? What good does it do to keep picking at an old wound, and getting one’s hopes up once more, if only to be ultimately disappointed when plans for a third Hellboy fall apart yet again? How many times are we willing to pretend that Hellboy will return, when all evidence painfully and explicitly points to the contrary?
It would be nice to imagine a world in which social media activism and Kickstarter campaigns could propagate the interest of the powers that be in Hollywood to support the films that fans most want to see, but the fans aren’t the only audience members that studio magnates have to answer to at the end of the day. Big budget action blockbusters like the first two installments of the Hellboy feature franchise are labor intensive, exceedingly expensive, and difficult to sell at the level of mass-market appeal. No matter how well regarded The Golden Army might be by its built-in fan base, the fact remains that Iron Man and The Dark Knight proved more immediately likable within the mainstream, audiences of all ages, socio-economic demographics, and communities able to identify with and enjoy them on the most primal and unmediated level of narrative understanding and thematic discourse.
While it would be nice to finally see a conclusion to the thematic arc established in the mythology that was so well introduced and set up in Guillermo del Toro’s first two installments in what had been planned as a trilogy of feature films along the same lines as Star Wars, I’m not holding out much hope for the franchise at this present juncture in the production of what could have been Perlman’s magnum opus as a lead actor. Hellboy is a feature film property that is too much aligned with the realm of imagination and hope to be entirely depended upon as the source of unilaterally realistic entertainment at the Box Office, no matter how much viewers might fervently wish for the case to be otherwise. That being said, and in the words of Hellboy himself, keep the hope alive for Hellboy by tweeting and retweeting your heart out, and “Let’s get this muthafucka’ trending, y’all!”