Rated R for bloody horror violence and gore, 105 minutes
"The Wolfman" is messy, jolty entertainment
It's never a good sign when a film is delayed multiple times, even big action-horror-thriller remakes like "The Wolfman," based on the 1941 classic Lon Chaney film of the same name. While it's provides a handful of sizable, jumpy scares, "The Wolfman" is a messy, empty exercise in Hollywood filmmaking that will disappoint fans of the original film. The story has been considerably altered from the older film to amp up the action, losing the real heart of the story: the inner struggle between man and beast.
Set in 1880's outside of London, England, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is reunited with his loving but distant father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) following the mysterious disappearance and possible death of his brother Ben. A Scotland Yard detective named Aberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives to investigate further, and they learn that some with quick, brute strength and an insatiable appetitite for blood has been killing many in nearby towns. As he becomes attracted to his brother's fiance Gwen (Emily Blunt), he himself falls under the curse that is at the center of the brutal murders and learns that it's been far closer to him that he had ever expected.
"The Wolfman" is an unfortunate big-budgeted disappointment that relies heavily on its special effects and action set pieces to deliver a great movie, which it fails to do. The movie has gone through several directors, many script rewrites and multiple delays, and it shows on screen. Though the transformation from man to beast is an impressive one courtesy of Rick Baker (Oscar-winner for his werewolf makeup in the scarier and funnier "An American Werewolf in London"), the updated story is a disjointed, unrevealing mess.
What is most unfortunate about "The Wolfman" other than its story is the fact the big-name cast fails to deliver. You'd think with two smart actors in Oscar-winners Hopkins and Del Toro that it'd generate some electricity, but it doesn't. It hardly explores the troubled father-son relationship, plus Hopkins, in a hammy take-the-money-and-run-quickly performance, chews on the scenery too much, nearly devouring Del Toro with it. Speaking of which, he's a real disppointment too considering that he's inspired given his naturally hairy, dark features. Emily Blunt, as the romantic angle here, is given little to do in a smallish but sympathetic role, while "Lord of the Rings" and "Matrix" stalwart Weaving scowls as usual on cue.
Director Joe Johnston ("Jurassic Park III") handles the terrific action pieces well, and they pop with energy and force (and graphic violence too: if you don't enjoy seeing heads roll, this isn't for you), but everything in between is a bit of a bore. At least the make-up and special effects are first-rate (the wolfman is far more nimble and mobile than in the original) and the lush, handsome sets evoke the period well. Danny Elman's gothic musical score is also well-placed but seems overly familiar in a dark Batman-esque sort of way.
By the time "The Wolfman," or "Wolfmen" considering the plot twists, gets down to the Hopkins-Del Toro clash at the end, it literally crashes and burns in an anti-climactic way, and certainly leaves it open for more of these installments, but without Del Toro and Hopkins. After this misfire of a movie, let's hope they put a quick silver bullet through that idea. The original film is cheesy-scary, but still far better than this.