I have come here today to break down two movies from the early 2000s that were both created by a director who I and many others consider to be a visionary in the truest sense of the word. The visionary in question is Guillermo del Toro, and the movies in question are Blade 2 and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. The Mexican auteur whose love for everything monstrous is well documented. His is a love that is so profound it is the one continuous seam that runs throughout his vast and exceptional portfolio of movies.
From that portfolio that I have chosen two movies that I believe share a lot of the same genetic makeup. It is not just that they are both comic book adaptations or that they share the same director. Funnily enough, del Toro would actually jump ship from the Blade Universe to direct the first in the Hellboy series, which in hindsight may not have helped either franchise. Maybe if del Toro had directed Blade 3 it would have enhanced his reputation at the time and garnered more interest for the Hellboy movies.
A lack of interest in the source material and then the adaptations is what unfortunately denied us a chance of a Hellboy trilogy. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean to put them down, but not all people follow the more niche corners of the comic book world. I for one am a big Hellboy fan, both the movies and graphic novels, but it has more of a cult following when compared to the mainstream audience that Blade has amassed over the years. I think if del Toro had allowed himself the exposure, then another Blade movie would have helped both him and the Hellboy movies to no end.
Anyway, my assumptions are neither here nor there. What I want to put my attention on are the similarities that both Blade 2 and Hellboy 2 share. Now, I don’t just mean how they have the same director or find their roots in the comic book world as I mentioned. Nor am I referring to the fact that the villain of both pieces is portrayed by the same actor, Luke Goss in this case, or that they both star Ron Perlman. No, the commonalties I wanted to focus on are the ones that lie below the surface and run through both the narratives of these two Gullermo del Toro helmed monster-filled motion pictures.
First of all, at the crux of both movies is a villainous outsider, someone who has been forced into the wilderness by their societies. Cast aside by patriarchal figures, to be forgotten about. In Blade 2, the villain, Jared Nomak, is an abomination in the mind of his father, Eli Damaskinos, the leader of the Vampire Nation. Damaskinos sees his son as a manifestation of all the failures for his plans for the future of the Vampire race. Nomak represents the darkness of the night that the Vampire nation wants nothing more than to shed and step out into the light.
Just like Nomak, the villain of Hellboy 2, the ousted Prince Nuada is the manifestation of all his father’s greatest fears. King Balor shares similar fears for the future of their race and the longevity of his legacy. King Balor and Damaskinos fear that their offspring will undo all of their life’s work, thus leading to not just their downfall but also putting the future of their race and their way of life in jeopardy.
Although Nomak and Nuada share some similar goals, there is one major difference between the two returning prodigal sons. That difference is that Nomak seeks to wipe out an entire race whereas, in Nuada’s mind, he is trying to save his. This is where the two villains diverge but then quickly realign with regard to how they view their opposing protagonists.
Nuada sees Hellboy as.an outsider just like him, shunned by the society he cares for. Nomak shares this trait, believing Blade to also be an outcast, seen by his people as nothing more than a freakish aberration—a cautionary tale told to scare little kids at night. It is an interesting dynamic that both of these movies share. It also creates some conflict within the antagonists and how they view their place in the world. When you compare Nomak to Blade and Hellboy to Nuada, they are almost the twisted mirror images of each other. Like so many tales of the hero and the villain, we see what might have been.
If Blade had not been taken in by Whistler, he might have become a vicious hunter without remorse just like Nomak, left to spread his sickness without any natural predator to curtail his more animalistic side. One thing they both share is a disdain for their Vampiric foes. Blade and Nomak’s hatred might run as deep as one another, but it is their methods that vary greatly. Blade’s goal is to prevent Vampires from becoming the dominant species by stopping the spread of his enemy’s disease whereas Nomak is trying to replace them as the dominant species by infecting them with his deadly disease.
In Hellboy 2, the relationship between Hellboy and Nuada with the ones they seek to protect is a complicated one. Both Hellboy and Nuada want to step out from the shadows, fed up with their existence being denied and relegated to nothing more than an urban legend or a folkloric fairytale. Hellboy wants nothing more than to be seen as the hero and to be accepted into wider society, willing to change himself to fit in any way he can.
On the other hand, Nuada wants to change the society that has pushed him aside, not afraid to be seen as the villain. He feels that to find his place in the world he has to create it in his image and not recreate his image to suit the world. This is where the two find themselves in conflict with one another, but this is not the only way that Hellboy and Prince Nuada differ.
It is true that both want nothing more than to be loved, but it is the methods by which they go about getting this love that couldn’t be any more different. Hellboy tries to gain the love of the public through heroic acts whereas Nuada wants to instill the love of his people through fear and dominance. Hellboy also fights tooth and nail to change his destiny, but Nuada greets his perceived destiny with open arms.
Complicated Familial Ties
As I touched on before, both Nomak and Nuada have strained relationships with their fathers, but that is not where their familial strife ends. Both of them feel embittered by the closeness of their fathers with their sisters, feeling that they have lived the lives that were owed to them. While they skulk and hide, it is their sister that reaps the benefits that are rightfully theirs. It is this feeling of jealously that leads them to turn on their siblings. Nomak infects his sister Nyssa while Nuada uses Nuala throughout Hellboy, seeing her as nothing more than a means of survival and leverage.
It is funny that the reverence they believe their siblings to be held up in is nothing but a self-perceived falsehood. When Nuada is sentenced to death by his father, so too is his sister. They are intrinsically linked so a death sentence for one is a death sentence for the other. We also see how Damoskinos views his daughter Nyssa as an expendable asset when he sends her to lead The Bloodpack to hunt for Nomak and the other Reapers. It is only because of how inward thinking both Nomak and Nuada are that they don’t see how their sisters are also just pawns in the game of chess that they despise so much.
Removal of the Veil
Both of the franchise sequels, like many before them, delve deeper into the mythos of their respective worlds, allowing our protagonists a glimpse behind the curtain. In Blade 2, he is taken further into the Vampire world when he joins forces with the Reapers and the Vampire Nation. This deep dive allows not just Blade but also the audience a chance to better understand the world that our characters inhabit. This is no more evident than when Blade is led to an underground Vampire night club and he is the eyes of the audience. He too is filled with the same disgust that we are as he witnesses the sadomasochistic scenes unfold in The House of Pain.
Whereas Blade is taken into the dark underworld, Hellboy is taken deeper into the world of fantasy. He and his cohorts are guided by the newest member of The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Johann Krauss. When they venture under the Brooklyn Bridge and into the Troll Market, it gives us a chance to see the inner workings of the fantastical side of the world. It allows us to get a better understanding of the creatures, their customs, and the hierarchical structure of the hidden world that they call home.
Shades of Grey
With the removal of the veil, what is really revealed is that everything is not so black and white, that there is actually some grey to these worlds. This is conveyed in Blade 2 in Blade’s relationship with Nyssa. It is clear that the two have deep admiration and respect for one another. They share an almost intimate relationship. Blade even went as far as saving Nyssa’s life, allowing her to drink from his blood after she had suffered exposure to the UV bomb in the sewers. He was also visibly affected by her death at the climax of the movie, carrying her out to see the sunrise one time before turning to ash in his arms.
Hellboy also feels the same conflict that Blade feels when he gets his chance to go beneath the surface of his enemy’s world. Hellboy’s interaction with Nuada in the scene where he is forced to gun down the last Elemental makes him realize the ramifications of his actions, that with one shot he will send an entire species into extinction. It is this moment that will color a lot of Hellboy’s decisions going forward in the piece. It was this scene that showed Hellboy that his conquest against the things that go bump in the night may not be as cut and dry as he once thought. Maybe this world has as much right to exist as the one he fights to protect.
In both movies, one thing that the two heroes share is a sense of self-loathing. Blade, just like Hellboy, hates himself and what he is. Blade’s thirst for blood is his constant reminder that he is something other than human, and this is something he is forever at conflict with. His use of the serum is his way of denying his true self what it wants. Blade knows that to give in to the thirst could spell the end for mankind. With a daywalker at the head, a Vampiric snake could engulf the world, and this is something that Blade is forever at conflict with.
Where Blade uses his serum to deny his more primal side, Hellboy uses an angle grinder to shear his horns down. This is Hellboy’s way of trying to be more human. He views his horns the way Blade views his thirst as an ever-present reminder that he is not like the ones he protects. Hellboy also sees this as a way of suppressing his true nature and stopping himself from becoming Anung Un Rama, thus preventing the apocalypse.
This constant inner struggle is not just inherent to the protagonists of these movies. Jared Nomak and Nuada feel as though they have been abandoned. Nomak hates himself for the monster he is and the thirst he feels, seeking to destroy himself as much as the ones that have scorned him. Nomak’s sense of inner turmoil comes from his aforementioned feeling of self-hatred and also from feeling like he has no place in the world.
These traits are not unique to Nomak. They are something that Nuada shares with the Reaper in spades. Nuada feels as though his family turned their backs on not just him but also on a time of war and conflict that he represents. Just like Nomak, he was created for one purpose and now is deemed surplus to requirements, and this leads them to direct their hatred inward every bit as much as it causes them to project it outward.
When Blade thrusts his sword in Nomak’s bone encased heart in the final showdown, Nomak says, “It is strange, it hurts… it hurts no more.” This is his release from his pain and the conflict that consumes him from within. This is one way that the climax of Blade 2 goes in a separate direction from Hellboy 2.
Whereas Nomak was able to find some peace at his end, Nuada was not. In his final moments, he says, “We die… and the world will be poorer for it.” The tormented Prince does not see the same benefit in his death as Nomak sees in his. He does not accept his demise, seeing it as a detriment to the world, that losing him is just the severing of another tether that keeps our world linked to the fantastical one that he fights for.
Nomak accepted his fate, realizing that death is the only real way that he can be freed from his bonds of anguish. He recognizes that his pain, his thirst will not be satiated in this life, that the wildfire within him has to be quenched or otherwise it will burn through him and anything else that he comes in contact with. Though the climaxes vary in this manner, they lead back to another similarity that these movies share.
Humanization of the Monster
These dying proclamations allow us some insight into the minds of both Nomak and Nuada, going a long way to add layers of flawed humanity to the monstrous villains. It is also another moment for del Toro to shows us all his love for the monster. No other director would go to the lengths that he did to not only humanize Nomak but also to give him in his final moments some semblance of peace. This is the climatic humanization of the villain—something else that the two movies share.
In Nuada’s final moments, when he says the world will be poorer for his death, that is as much del Toro speaking as it is Nuada. The dying declaration is del Toro’s way of saying that without monsters and creatures in the world, it would be a mundane place lacking in the type of magical mysticism that the world Nuada comes from is filled with.
Del Toro has said on many occasions that he always relates most to the monsters from his tales, feeling them be kindred spirits. He shares their feelings of being an outcast. It is this love that oftentimes sees the most monstrous looking characters from his movies actually being the most human deep down. Del Toro teaches us that we should not judge someone or something by their outer self but by their inner being.
I think the fact that Guillermo del Toro’s love for the monsters from his movies may have been what led to these movies covering similar ground. They were made only two years apart, meaning that they are in close proximity not just chronologically but also within del Toro’s headspace. Their commonalities tell me that he wanted to tell a story from either side of the same coin. He wanted to speak about a returning prodigal son filled with conflict that seeks to replace his father at the top of the food chain whilst being pitted against a similar but more heroic outcast.
He wanted to speak about conflict from the point of view of not just the hero but also the villain. What del Toro does is what he always does, He creates fully realized, complex creatures that just want to be loved. The through-line between all of the characters that are highlighted in these movies is that they seek to find love from others, thus allowing them to find their place in a world that they feel shunned by.
Although their motives and methods for trying to obtain this love vary wildly, it is the end goal that always stays the same. They want acceptance. Maybe, in the same way, del Toro wants to be accepted. These movies came in a time long before he won the Oscar for Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape of Water. Maybe at this stage of his career del Toro felt like he was on the outside looking in, that the world he wanted to venture into didn’t have a place for the visionary style of his otherworldly creations.
I think when you put these movies side by side they share so much in terms of narrative tones, action set pieces, and even down to a similar paled skin aesthetic of the villain. Their commonalities show that these filmmakers pour their hearts and soul into their stories, and the ones that are created so close together can oftentimes find themselves adjacent to each other in the mind of the auteur in question. What it really shows to us all is exactly how much of a storyteller is in the stories that they tell.