Even with the much publicized production upheavals (directorial changes, reshoots and pretty much everything else that could be altered at the most inopportune moment) plaguing The Wolfman, is it too much to ask to ask for a movie that, while drawing inspiration from its 1941 source, retools — in inventive ways, mind you — the telling of man who turns to a beast? If you were to ask this question to those responsible, they would tell you, “Yes, it is too much to ask and how dare you even ask such an obscene question.”
They would say that because The Wolfman, contrary to the hype, is a ferociously uninspired and mottled film. Director Joe Johnston presents the viewer with nothing more than a weary patchwork story immersed in darkness and fog that gets little in the way of a powerful performance from his more than capable cast. The trifecta is complete with the unpleasant kick in the ass from the yesteryear effects offered up by Rick Baker (you know, the man responsible for the frighteningly painful transformations in The Howling and An American Werewolf in London). To not be wowed by a climactic moment like a man transforming into a beast is simply inexcusable.
Such is what happens when too much effort is made to make the film feel older than it is or needs to be. Shelly Johnson does her job with stunning cinematography but The Wolfman would have fared better, perhaps, if it had been updated to reflect our current day or, if at a minimum, made use of technologies that would have made the anticipated sequences more savory.
But since that wasn’t the case, we’re transported to rural England in the 1890s. It’s dark, it’s dingy and Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns home after the death of his brother Ben. There, he finds his detached and unemotional father John (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s grief stricken fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt). Oh yeah, he also runs into the mythical creature which, after a surviving an attack from, curses him to become hairy and crave blood during the full moon (but you knew that).
Del Toro does well as a man tormented between his savage roots and his civility even though there isn’t much meat to the character. I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was more written for him by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self when he first signed onto the project four years ago. Hopkins, well Hopkins plays his now typical creepy, brooding character, only you’ve seen him act it better elsewhere — much, much better.
Poor Emily Blunt literally has no reason at all to be in the film. Other than being sparingly used as a love interest, she is nonexistent, even when in the frame. I’m sure she too thought the finished product would look different. Same could be said about Hugo Weaving as Inspector Francis Aberline of Scotland Yard. He comes to investigate the growing body count but for the same impact he could have simply phoned in for clues had the telephone been invented.
Horror folks will be mildly entertained when the bloodletting gets into gear. There are few scenes — namely one that takes place in a mental institution — that will leave a lasting impression.
Ultimately though, The Wolfman is a product of too many producers and not enough gaffers on the set. Its direction is as mangled as the disembodied bodies it showcases. Its characters are as soulless as the creature itself. By not going to see this, which I recommend, you’ll send a message to Hollywood: Unless an infallible plan is in place, keep the hands off the classics. Let’s hope they hear it.