This werewolf-themed horror film set in Victorian England centers on Lawrence Talbot, an American man who, upon a visit to London, gets bitten by a werewolf. Talbot had come to England to make amends with his estranged father, but after a moonlight transformation leaves him with a savage hunger for flesh, family harmony is the least of his worries.
In 1941 Universal Studios released a film called "The Wolf Man" starring Lon Chaney Jr. It was a hit, advancing acting, makeup, and sets. The Wolf Man is the only Universal monster to be played by the same actor in all of its 1940s film appearances. Chaney was very proud of this as he claimed in interviews that the Wolf Man was "his baby." Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro was chosen to play this year's hairy creature because many said that he looked like Chaney. But is he as good?
The movie starts when Lawrence Talbot is taken back to his family home after his brother disappears. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Alberine has come to investigate.
The sets and the makeup have a really fake yet interesting look to them. I like the fact that the atmosphere was sort of tacky like Universal's old films. The trees look fake in the forest, the fog looks like it's coming from a fog machine, and the makeup resembles a lot of the look of the 1941 film. Some may see these elements as stupid ones but I think they're fun to be around along with the black and white Universal title at the beginning. There is one scene that has true quality to it. Towards the middle of the film, we see Lawrence Talbot transform for the second time into the monster. He ends up running from the Scotland Yard inspector atop London's rooftops. The music and cinematography are very well done in this sequence and blend fantastically together.
In the 1941 version, Lon Chaney had to perform with only makeup on and nothing else. He had to act, show emotion, and find depth in his character. Here, in this definite modernized version of the story, there are only a few valuable shots of the Wolf Man in makeup. The rest is CGI. Benicio Del Toro doesn't have to act much as the fully transformed creature. It is controlled by a computer now, not an actor. We don't get that true, raw, elegant character performance as much today which is unfortunate because this is part of movie magic.
The cast is not as great as you would think. Anthony Hopkins isn't that good, just annoying. And Emily Blunt's performance is one note. Overall, this is a bland movie. The pacing is what makes it poor and it's very predictable. It's only interesting when the Wolf Man transforms and when there are guts flying on the screen. I honestly don't think this movie could've been scarier than it is though. Nothing, no matter what you do, can make a scary "Wolf Man" movie because he isn't a horrifying character and he is not real, as opposed to a movie like "The Strangers" which could really happen. Do you think anything can be made into horror? This remake could’ve been worse but I suggest you wait for the DVD.
It's hard, it has to be, to be a filmmaker in the 21st century intent on remaking a genre classic like Universal's legendary The Wolf Man. You're going to find yourself, much like The Wolfman (the remake loses a space) director Joe Johnston has maybe found himself, square in damned if you do and damned if you don't territory. You're handed the keys to the kingdom, you find yourself responsible for a profoundly important cultural artifact like wolfie, and you have to deliver. Do you "update" and "re-imagine" and risk the absolute thrashing you'll take, word-of-mouth, from the reverent nerd crowd? Or do you go old fashioned, do it faithful and old-school, and risk alienating audiences more used to slasher flicks and Werewolf versus Dracula inside the Techno Dome techno-monster thrillers like Underworld?
Thankfully (to this nerd, any way) Johnston went old school. Way old school. His remake features Benecio and Anthony Hopkins as the cursed father and son of Blackmoor, competing beasts cursed by fate to burst into full mane every full moon and tear up the hedgerows of the sleepy countryside. The wolfman in The Wolfman is no sleek CGI beast - we're talking full on Lon Chaney Jr. man-with-a-hairy-face style beast-man style, and it's both silly and impossibly great to see, thanks to the diligent old-fashioned hair-by-hair makeup by Rick Baker.
That they did it, that they were faithful to the original aesthetic and idea of the 1941 original is near enough to make me happy, if only because it could have been so, so much worse. As it is, the film is herky-jerky, rushing at a sprint through important character moments and then slowing to an inexplicable crawl when there's not really much going on. Emily Blunt, del Toro and Hopkins are all as good as they could be, but where they succeed wildly as actors in creating a dreadful, haunted atmosphere they fail due to a poor script at creating much in the way of emotional resonance. The film is beautiful, dark and gloomy and spectacularly well designed but at the same time leaden, morose and not in any way affecting. It crawls and sprints, it looks great when it doesn't look hilariously goofy, the characters are mysteries to us and to each other, and it falls way short of both the original and the grand dank tragedy it was trying to be. It could, though, have been a million times worse. 5/10