The Wolfman


Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot
Emily Blunt as Gwen Conliffe
Anthony Hopkins as Sir John Talbot
Hugo Weaving as Aberline
Art Malik as Singh

The Story:
Stage actor and estranged son Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returns to childhood home in Blackmoor, England at the behest of his brother’s fiancée Gwen (Blunt). His brother Ben has been missing for several weeks. Lawrence returns to Talbot Manor and is reacquainted with his aging father (Hopkins), a former big game adventure-type, and the memories of a deeply flawed home life. Once Ben turns up dead, his body mangled by some unknown savagery, Lawrence vows to Gwen that he will find the killer. While investigating his brother’s death in a nearby gypsy camp, the grounds are invaded by a faceless beast and Lawrence bitten. The next full moon, Lawrence must come to grips with the realization that he is no longer human, but a blood-thirsty monster that knows no peace. Before the long the hunt is on and joined by Scotland Yard Detective Aberline (Weaving) as the scenery shifts between the gloom of the moors and the bustle of the London streets.

“The Wolfman” is rated R for bloody horror violence and gore.

What Worked:
Director Joe Johnston’s remake/update of the Universal Monsters classic has a great look and feel, when he sticks with homage. Blackmoor is just about the most perfect place on the planet for a good old fashioned werewolf massacre – lots of fog, trees, marshes, cemeteries, Stonehenge-like monuments, etc… The scenery is buoyed even more by Danny Elfman’s score which is neither subtle nor over-the-top, but straddles a fine line between intensity and camp.

Both Hopkins and Weaving are good here. Hopkins plays the creepy old man with a secret about as good as anyone (see “The Mask of Zorro” for instance), while Weaving’s Aberline is cool and collected even if he’s not given too much to do.

Some of the best scenes in the film were the goriest… when the wolf is picking off gypsies in the forest camp or when he is ‘trapped’ by the bog-standard angry mob out on the moor.

What Didn’t:
I went into “The Wolfman” thinking I would emerge afterwards with at least a little nervousness about moon-filled sky. Sadly, after watching the movie the only thing I fear for is Benicio Del Toro’s career as a leading man. He’s done some outstanding supporting/character work, but I found him completely flat as Lawrence. It’s a shame because I’m a fan, but this was a very blah performance. There were times in the movie he almost looked disinterested. I’m not sure if he was just over-playing the sorrow-filled sibling/tortured soul or if he was really phoning it in. Admittedly, he received little help from the script, which was filled with stilted dialogue and cliché.

The effects are going to get some attention here. I, for one, am okay with the wolf as presented… some of the time. He is a good upgrade from the classic 1941 version, but maintains most of the traits of the original, but I do think it was inconsistent throughout the movie. Good is spots, bad in others. It was almost as if the transformation scenes, which were well done, were creating a completely different monster than the end result. I thought the ‘running on all fours’ aspect was a nice touch, even if it reminded me of the werewolves from Joss Whedon’s “Buffy” universe.

The CGI that was the goofiest was the work on the gypsy bear and the ‘bait’ elk. Both were pretty uninspired.

There was also a dream sequence scene where Johnson used a motion-doubling technique that looked very out of place in the movie… unnecessary overkill to sell the dream aspect in my book.

There are other problems here, but I’ll keep this review spoiler-free and not address them here.

In the end, Johnston and his crew didn’t make a terrible movie; they just didn’t make a good one. There are parts of “The Wolfman” that are solid, but they are too soon overshadowed by the droll pacing and Del Toro’s sparkless performance. The film was delayed several times for reshoots and effects work, among other things. The delay, as much as anything, likely contributed to the unevenness of the movie, especially when it comes to the CG work. I really wanted to see a cool werewolf movie here, but sadly, this update is for the dogs.