Posted by Peter Hall - February 12th 2010 @ 2:40 am

Directed by Joe Johnston, 2010
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self

I’ve got just as many complaints as I have compliments for Joe Johnston’s THE WOLFMAN, but the crux of its failings is this; What’s the point?  Lawrence Talbot (Benecio Del Toro) returns home to his estranged and aloof father (Anthony Hopkins) to investigate the savage death of his brother at the request of his now-widowed sister in law (Emily Blunt).  Things are not as expected in back in England and, well, I don’t need to explain it.  We all know Benecio Del Toro is then turned into a werewolf and starts killing people against his will.  It’s really not that complicated.

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.

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  1. February 12th, 2010 | 11:56 am | #1

    I dunno, casting Del Toro in this role never made sense to me. (Makes even less sense that he’s cast to be Moe in an upcoming Three Stooges film?!) I don’t see him as very emotive.

    Oh well, I wasn’t really looking forward to this remake anyways, so now I know I can avoid it safely.

  2. Matt J.
    February 12th, 2010 | 2:41 pm | #2

    For the love of…I do’nt understand how they can screw this one up? It’s all right there. I’ve read some articles about how they are planning revamping all the Universal Monsters. I’m still gonna check it out this weekend as the Wolfman has always been my favoritve Monster. It’s a shame..I’ve always liked Del Toro, I just finished watching Che and was very impressed with his performance in that.

  3. hansulu
    February 12th, 2010 | 9:14 pm | #3

    what a damned shame. was hopkins any good at least??

  4. February 13th, 2010 | 1:02 am | #4

    Hansulu, yeah, Hopkins is a lot of fun in it. However, despite being pretty important to it all, he’s really not given a lot of screen time.

  5. February 14th, 2010 | 1:39 pm | #5

    Yeah I saw it on Friday and being that I have seen the 1941 original at least 30 times I liked the first half. After that it takes a right turn that I don;t think it is ever able to recover from. Del Toro needed more of something. The plot device between Larry and Sir John is unappealing, the gypsies, including Maleva are hardly in it and the film just kind of ends. No tragic ironic ending this time. A lot better than Van Helsing though and at least it took itself seriously. Great makeup, wonderful atmosphere and did I mention the terrific job Rick Baker did?

  6. Mark Orbit
    February 17th, 2010 | 7:49 am | #6

    As the review suggests, what this film is completely missing is the tormented soul of Lawrence Talbot, superbly acted by Lon Chaney Jr in 1941. I was really looking forward to this film but without that element of inner turmoil it isn’t complete.

    There are certain changes to the plot that I feel are not positive changes. A real shame as I had high hopes for this and it’s an opportunity missed.

    It looked great but I missed the angst of Talbot greatly.

    I doubt this is the film Del Toro wanted to make.

  7. Matt J.
    February 17th, 2010 | 8:39 pm | #7

    After seeing the film I fully agree on all points. Not the worst film…but I was hoping for so much more. Lets hope The Crazies re make is much better.

  8. R.J. Sayer
    February 26th, 2010 | 10:18 am | #8

    you are far too kind to this bullshit, Peter.

    only three things about the film worked: the cinematography, the score, and the art direction.

    everything else (including ALL the performances) were terrible. but they all stem from the same two basic problems: 1. an awful script frankensteined from the rotting pieces of about thirty rewrites, stinking to high heaven of studio interference and 2. a director who doesn’t really understand horror (like, ANYTHING about it) or the appropriation of gothic elements.

    oh… and the mark of the anti-beast for any werewolf film: CG TRANSFORMATIONS.

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