And that’s the problem. THE WOLFMAN needs to be complicated. There needs to be torment behind those eyes in order for the audience to fear the full moon as much as Talbot does should. Yet this iteration has no such concerns. In fact, it’s not so much a creature feature as it is a zombie film. Johnston and company lurch mindlessly from one obvious plot point to the next as though the whole film were operating on muscle memory and the vague knowledge that at one point in its life it had a higher purpose. And low the purpose fell, the sets and makeup remained, so all involved went through the motions to deliver a horror movie that is entertaining in spurts but largely forgettable.
Universal’s resurrection of its classic monster is riddled with obvious holes in which to insert blame, but its troubled production is hardly the excuse here. Even if original director Mark Romanek had stayed on board, audiences would still have Benecio Del Toro, who is about as energetic as a pamphlet on lycanthropy. It’s astounding how uninvolved his performance is considering his love for the 1941 WOLF MAN is what got the project up and running in the first place. He exerts zero charisma throughout his non-wolf sequences, in turn giving the audience zero emotional interest in seeing him overcome the monstrous Gypsy curse.
This version of Lawrence Talbot doesn’t want to be a werewolf, obviously, but Del Toro’s level of inner turmoil is on par with getting into a fender bender when late for a meeting. We should be feeling for this man, we should fear his actions when he succumbs to the wolf, but considering the whole ordeal is expressed as little more than an inconvenience for Talbot, there’s never any gravity attached to his actions.
It’s all set off by a listless chain of events that sublimate the anguish of Talbot for buckets of blood and bodily dismemberment. And for those who are only interested in seeing a few sequences that give Platinum Dunes’ productions a run for their money, that’s okay. I’m sure there are plenty of people that will be willing to forgive hollow performances and rushed editing (no doubt spurred along by studio intervention) in exchange for some genuinely badass moments of arterial spray, but even a cynic like me thinks most genuine horror fans aren’t so superficially pleased.
However, those who expect pesky things like character development and thrills that aren’t predicated by a clashing orchestra or a barking dog — if I ever see THE WOLFMAN again, it’ll be to count just how many jump scares it foolishly employs; I might need a calculator — will come away sated but not satisfied. It’s not a dreadful experience, mind you. The production design is a treat, particularly during the asylum sequence, Hugo Weaving as the detective investigating Talbot is a refreshing antidote to the infectious lethargy that is Del Toro, and even the dreaded CGI transformations are adequately convincing. But once it’s all said and done, once you’ve carried the one on how many loud jolts Johsnton tries to throw at the audience (his ideal candidate must not go to horror movies often) versus how great it is to see practical make-up work from Rick Baker again, THE WOLFMAN about breaks even.
But breaking even just isn’t good enough, now is it? Part of me wishes it at least committed to one side or the other, that it would either be a complete disaster or an underdog triumph. But it’s neither. THE WOLFMAN is just there, lurking in the shadows like its eponymous creature, waiting not to convert, but to occupy your time with a bit of “Have you ever seen Victorian England this gory?” logic. At least the breathless, blood-lubricated pace means the run time races by.