Lawrence Talbot (BENICIO DEL TORO) has morphed from a human into an unimaginable creature in the action-horror inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror.
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving
Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
It wasn’t a bad idea, remaking The Wolf Man. The 1941 original, although canonized as a “classic” (primarily due to Jack Pierce’s iconic werewolf makeup, Maria Ouspenskaya’s convincing turn as the gypsy Maleva, and nostalgia), suffers from thin plotting and Lon Chaney Jr.’s questionable acting. A big budget remake that fleshed out the ideas and themes of the original, stocked with proven acting talents like Benicio Del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins, a werewolf designed by Rick Baker, directed by a proven auteur like Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo, The Mothman Prophecies)… Why not?
Gwen Conliffe (EMILY BLUNT) hides from an unimaginable creature in the action-horror inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolfman
But then Romanek dropped out about a week prior to filming, replaced by Joe Johnston, the man who made Jumanji. Then we hear that Rick Baker’s involvement was being curtailed because the man-to-werewolf transformations were going to be done using CGI. Then reshoots were necessary to bump up the action, and the studio cut down on first act exposition to get to the first transformation sequence faster. Suddenly this good idea didn’t seem so good.
And the result is even worse. The Wolf Man is a horror film made by people who do not understand – and perhaps do not even like – horror. Suspense and tension are replaced by cheap jump scares, and its two leads, Del Toro and Hopkins, mostly phone in their performances – the result, perhaps, of the pre-production shenanigans which transformed the movie they had originally signed on to into quite the shaggy dog indeed.
BENICIO DEL TORO stars as Lawrence Talbot
The plot is mostly familiar. Set in 1891 England, The Wolf Man opens with the death by lycanthrope of stage actor Larry Talbot’s (Del Toro) brother Ben. Summoned to the Talbot’s ancestral estate by Ben’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt), Larry arrives to find his distant father Sir John (Hopkins) still dead-eyed from the suicide of Larry’s mother years earlier. Local villagers blame a rash of violent deaths on a nearby gypsy settlement, but it soon becomes apparent that something unnatural has sunk its teeth into the town of Blackpool. And that something soon sinks its teeth into Larry Talbot, transforming the actor into a werewolf himself, doomed to roam the moors in search of blood whenever the moon grows full. Scotland Yard investigates, family secrets are revealed, and the moors run red with blood as the Wolfman runs free.
Sounds wonderful, yes? Except that Del Toro and Hopkins share no chemistry. And Emily Blunt’s Gwen? An underwritten cipher. Exactly how she falls in love with her husband’s brother so soon after his violent death remains a mystery. Oh yes, it’s a plot device, and such a big budget effort needs a romantic subplot, yes?
Johnston’s direction is frantic. The film’s first act is a rush to get to the transformation sequence, which is impressive and convincing as far as CGI goes (the Wolfman Del Toro gallops well), but without convincing relationships or intriguing dialogue, we care little for Larry’s damnation. Fortunately, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) is always watchable as Inspector Abberline, and an ambiguous ending portends a Hugo-heavy sequel.
Will there be one? As of this writing (two days before the film’s opening), 544 people have already rated the film 8.9 out of 10 on the IMDb so perhaps. If so then let us hope that it has a lot more bite than this toothless reboot.
Lawrence Talbot (BENICIO DEL TORO) morphs from a human into an unimaginable creature in the action-horror inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolfman.