After some monumental struggles, director replacements and many postponements, The Wolfman finally makes it to screens, and those problems are evident in the finished product. While Benicio Del Toro puts in some good work as the hairy one, the film feels like it’s missing something.
When actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) hears his brother is missing, he returns to his homeland to discover that someone, or something, has mauled him to death. One night, during an ill-advised visit to a gypsy camp, he’s attacked and ultimately becomes the latest recipient of the wolfman’s curse. Sucks to be him.
I’ll say it straight up, I don’t think Joe Johnston was the right choice to pilot this one. I’m not a fan of his Jurassic Park III, and his best film is probably Honey, I Shrunk the Kids made 20 years ago. He’s not a bad director, but he can get kind of schlocky. When addressing an infamous, gothic Universal monster such as the wolfman, style, not schlock, is essential.
You can see Johnston making his best attempts at style. The Talbot estate where the doomed Lawrence and his crazy daddy (Anthony Hopkins) reside is straight out of a ’30s horror picture. Johnston gets all the grays and blues just right, and from still images, you’d think he nailed the world he’s trying to create.
The problem with the presentation comes with the movement of the camera and the characters. The action scenes come off as high-octane CGI fakery, which just doesn’t jibe with a period piece. When the werewolf takes to all fours and bounds through the forest, you might as well be watching a cartoon. Actually, you are watching a cartoon.
It’s alleged that Rick Baker—the man responsible for An American Werewolf in London’s groundbreaking beast—sought out producers for the makeup job on this one. The Wolfman’s look is a combo of CGI and Baker’s practical effects. Oddly enough, it’s here that CGI works rather well. A scene where Del Toro transforms in front of a medical audience, replete with a gnarled face and cracking fingers, is actually quite effective.
It’s the practical makeup that looks a little cumbersome and, yes, goofy. Del Toro wears a huge headpiece that often looks like a bad Halloween mask rather than something that successfully integrates with his features.
Del Toro does his best with a thin, predictable story. My favorite moments in the movie are not the actual werewolf attacks, but the aftermath: Del Toro waking up soaked in blood, exhausted and confused. It’s here that he’s able to give his character a decent human edge.
Hopkins gets to goof around and act all nutty like he did in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. His moments onscreen are some of the movie’s best, although I wasn’t blown away by Daddy Talbot’s ultimate character arc. The film’s final battle sequence is moronic and reminded me of the terrible werewolf showdown in Jack Nicholson’s Wolf.
Emily Blunt is good as the love interest. She’s quickly becoming one of the more reliable actresses in film right now. As for Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard inspector, he drags out every piece of dialogue in an exaggerated manner akin to his overacting in the Matrix movies. This guy can really get on my nerves.
Mark Romanek, who made the very good One Hour Photo and some of the best music videos ever produced, was originally slated to direct The Wolfman. Something tells me his movie would’ve been a lot better than the one we ultimately got.
Honestly, the 1941 The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr., is a little overrated and hasn’t stood up as well as the 1931 Dracula and some of the Frankenstein movies. It could be argued that this remake is better than the original in many ways. That still doesn’t mean that it’s very good, because it isn’t.