Nothing is safe from being remade. And no-one is safe from this version of The Wolfman. Fortunately, the original The Wolf Man was made in 1941 so not many people will have seen it prior to this. Unfortunately, the influx of werewolves in film this century (including those seen in The Twilight saga and Underworld series) has somewhat diluted their appeal. The troubled production (director leaving, release date delays, re-shoots) and over-emphasis on gore does not help this messy update.
Set in Victorian times, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is an American returning to his native family in the English countryside on the request of his brother’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt). The reason? His brother has been brutally mauled to death. This also reunites him with his estranged father, John, who sent him to an insane asylum as a child before he went to America. Needless to say, their reunion is not a happy one.
After trying to establish how and why his brother was murdered, Lawrence realises that other villagers are being killed in a similar manner. When he gets bitten by something wild (what could that have been?), it’s not just one killer the police, headed by Abberline (Hugo Weaving), need to look out for. It leads Lawrence on a discovery of not only himself, but of his whole family.
The most instant aspect is The Wolfman‘s effects; the Victorian era has been captured perfectly in the film’s creepy light and the wolf-turning scenes are crisply done and seamlessly fluent, as one would expect from werewolf makeup specialist Rick Baker. Director Joe Johnston appears to have made animatronics mixed with CGI his forte, with Jurassic Park III and Jumanji using similar techniques. It is just unfortunate that here’s no real build-up of tension or fear to compliment this.
Benicio Del Toro is feral looking enough and should be commended for sticking to this project throughout its disrupted development history (he was attached to it for three years) – and, although not entirely convincing in his overall performance, his look is all that is needed to make him good enough for part. Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, gives a very boring portrayal that is more noticeable for the fluctuating changes in his accent than anything else. Emily Blunt is rather dull as the love interest, but at least Hugo Weaving provides some admirable support.
Its main problem though is that its initial appeal in the 1940’s was that children could view this and let the terror run riot in their minds. This won’t, as it is just brutally gory and definitely not for kids. So for adults, this is actually a fun movie, if you like that sort of thing. There are some enjoyable scenes to be had – the death of numerous police officers in the woods, and Talbot’s transformation while strapped into a chair, to name but a few.
The performances are flat and the storyline uninspiring, but The Wolfman is also a gut-ripping romp that has the most memorable transformation scene since An American Werewolf in London. Just don’t expect it to have any charm underneath its fancy exterior.
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