The Wolfman (February 20th 2010)
The Wolfman is an update of 1941’s The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney. This version stars Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving, and is directed by Joe Johnston, best known for the classics Jurassic Park III, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji, as well as being in line to direct the 2011 Captain America movie.
The story is a fairly basic plot of Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returning to England as an actor, only to be informed of his brother’s horrific murder. He travels to his hometown of Blackmoor to meet Gwen Conliffe (Blunt), his would-be sister-in-law, and hid father, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins) in an effort to solve the murder.
He quickly finds out that some kind of man-beast was involved, and is subsequently attacked by said man-beast. As is obvious based on the folklore of lycanthropy, he inevitably becomes the titular Wolfman. This really isn’t a spoiler – it happens half an hour into the movie, and is also the title of the movie.
Of course he eventually murders some poor folk, and is carted off to an asylum in London where he is poked and prodded by an apparently German doctor who concludes that he definitely isn’t a werewolf. He presents his case to a room of lesser doctors, while Talbot transforms into the Wolfman behind him. Thus follows what I call An American Werewolf in Latter-19th Century London – a ten minute segment where the final werewolf spree of John Landis’ classic is copied almost entirely, while a bearded Agent Smith tries to shoot him off the rooftops.
This particular pastiche could be seen as one of two things. Either you enjoy the referencing of a revered movie, or it doesn’t seem to be a pastiche, but more of a rip-off. Although it wasn’t intended, or at least I certianly hope it wasn’t, there is another such moment where two werewolves have a fight that looks a lot like some of the scenes from last year’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The final nail in the coffin of “seeing-things-we’ve-seen-before-that-didn’t-need-to-be-seen-in-this-particular-movie” is a horrific final 20 seconds before the closing credits; a horribly clichéd moment where the revelation of a certain character’s lycanthropic future is revealed is cringe-inducingly bad, and threatened to ruin the preceding 100 minutes.
The film in itself isn’t all bad however, but something about it just doesn’t work. There is apparently no wish on the part of Johnston or writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self to give the film any sense of genre. Seeing the name Andrew Kevin Walker on the opening credits did inspire hope, but looking back at Self’s credits of The Haunting and Thirteen Days it seems that the respective talents of the two may have cancelled each other out. As I said, the film doesn’t fit any genre, and while this might not be necessary for every film it really should be necessary in a film called The Wolfman. Where it should be straightforward horror, this takes up a position of halfway house somewhere between horror, period piece, drama and half-hearted love story, and suffers for it.
Horror movies aren’t exactly in vogue right now, at least not the kind of horror movie that I hoped this would be, but that should be no reason for bypassing the true nature of what this movie should have been. A slasher version of The Wolf Man would have been preferable to this, as would a comic-booky, outlandish, olde-worlde Legend of Sleepy Hollow style thriller, but going for this style just didn’t work.
It’s a shame because this was a massively anticipated movie and had great potential, especially with the somewhat wolfish Benicio Del Toro in the lead. Joined by Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving, the cast was looking good, but Anthony Hopkins’ insistence on royally hamming it up in every scene possibly did some considerable damage to the film.
I’m rambling so I will conclude with this: The Wolfman is a decent movie, but it isn’t a horror movie. In fact, it isn’t any kind of movie apart from, as I said, a decent one. Del Toro is, as ever, fantastic and has done nothing here to harm his reputation. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece and you’ll be satisfied, but if you expect scary, suspenseful or anything superb (excuse the poor third adjective, but I was going for alliteration) you will be entirely let down. Have fun with it.