Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving
Director: John Johnston
Rating: Five of Ten Stars
Actor Larry Talbot (Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home in England after his brother mysteriously disappears. While trying to solve the mystery, he is attack by a werewolf.
"The Wolfman" is a remake of the classic Universal "The Wolf Man," arguably the period at the end of the Golden Age of monster movies. It is one of the best of werewolf movies to ever be made, but that's damning with faint praise, as a glance at this selection of reviews from sister blog Terror Titans shows. There aren't all that many good werewolf movies, so it's not hard to be among the best.
The first and biggest problem with the film is that it abandons the "Universal Gothic" setting, that strange Never-ever Land where torch- and pitchfork-wielding peasants and spell-casting gypsies existed side-by-side with European modernity in favor of a late 19th-century England that ends up feeling more like the American West when London becomes a shooting gallery as the Wolf Man runs rampant in the city.
An almost as big a problem is that instead of forging an identity and story of its own--which one might think the writers and director would have wanted to do, given the abandonment of the classic Universal horror environment--it keeps referencing the werewolf movies that spawned it, such as the original "The Wolf Man" and the very first (commercially disastrous yet artistically superior "Werewolf of London" films). From the origin of the secret curse that afflicts the Talbot family (inspired by "Werewolf of London") through the chasing of a beautiful woman through a fog-bound forest (inspired by "The Wolf Man") admirers of the old movies will see them reflected and echoed throughout this picture. Unfortunately, these "homages" will primarily remind you of how empty of ideas and substance this film truly is instead of making you admire it for building upon a grand creative legacy. Oh, and let's not even dwell on the shoehorning of Jack the Ripper into the film.
Where "Werewolf of London" saw its protagonist heroically stand up to evil, and "The Wolf Man" saw its protagonist(s) break under the weight of tragedy brought about by random events, "The Wolfman" has no real moral or emotional core. It's a superficial and melodramatic, all flash and no substance. Del Toro seems to have been cast primarily for his similarity in appearance to Lon Chaney Jr.; Blunt seems to have been cast primarily for her ability to look gorgeous, and twice-so when crying; Weaving is just there to fill space, like the Jack the Ripper backstory his character is tied to; and Hopkins is there... to be Anthony Hopkins. I think he may have retired from acting some time in the early 1990s and now just shows up to run lines. As for Hugo . None of these actors are bad and they are easily as good as the material they are working with, but there is no depth here. And that shallowness is what separates this modern Universal werewolf movie from the old ones from the 1930s and 1940s. And as flawed as "The Wolf Man" was, it wasn't shallow.
If you're looking for a film that will entertain you, spook you, and even gross you out (the transformation scenes will put you off your lunch I think), this is a movie to check out. Just know that it's not the classic that "Werewolf of London" is... and that unlike "Werewolf of London" or even the original "The Wolf Man," no one will be talking about this film more than seventy-eighty years after its release.
And this is a shame, because the talent brought to bear to make this movie should have been able to come up with something far better.