Successful stage actor Lawrence Talbot receives a letter from his brother Ben’s fiancé telling him that he has gone missing and asking for his help. He returns home to Talbot Hall where he has not set foot since a young boy and meets up with his estranged father, Sir John Talbot, to learn that Ben’s body has been found. It was in a horrific state as if he has been attacked by a savage wild beast. Lawrence investigates further and ends up at a gypsy camp where he has an encounter with a werewolf that bites him. After seemingly recovering from his injuries after a few days, Lawrence begins to transform into a werewolf when the moon is full.
The original is a classic – one of the landmarks films in the horror genre. Unfortunately because it’s so old, the wolfman story has been portrayed on film so many times in so many guises, with various sequels, spin-offs, spoofs, etc. I dare anyone with even a vague interest in film in general not to be able to explain the story or at least cover most of the basics of the wolfman mythology. It’s this familiarity with the story and character that is easily The Wolfman’s biggest obstacle. We know the story. We’ve seen it countless times in countless forms. So is there really anything new to add to it?
With such a chaotic production history, it’s amazing that The Wolfman has even made it to release. Directorial replacements at the last minute, re-shoots and script re-writes amongst other things, the problems are evident in the final version which is a mess that somehow manages to limp for 103 minutes before dropping dead at the end credits. It’s not that The Wolfman is a terrible film, far from it. It’s just that it’s one of the most unemotionally-investing films that I can recall watching. It’s a film that is hollow and shallow and seems to go through the motions. There’s little energy in it. There’s little sense of urgency. You get the sense that everyone here is just glad to be paid and that’s about it. It drifts from one sub-plot to the next, not sure of which direction it’s going in. Threads are picked up and dropped later in the film. It’s blatantly clear where the re-writes came and the film was chopped and changed around. Pacing is also a major problem as the film is dull as dishwater at times. The wolfman will then strike and suddenly the film becomes exciting. But then it fails to capitalise on this momentum and drifts back into its slumber, ready for the next transformation.
Let’s go with some good news though. It isn’t all bad. The wolfman himself is a mixture of CGI and traditional make-up and as poor as the CGI scenes are with the wolfman running across rooftops and the like, the practical make-up by Rick Baker is awesome and proves that computers can replace many things but not make them convincing. The make-up is terrifying at times and gives Benicio Del Toro the real chance to roar and howl like he’s never done before. The wolfman has never been more brutal than he is here. He’s a snarling, rabid animal who rips apart his victims in a shower of blood, limbs and entrails. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by the amount of gore on display here.
The film itself looks visually stunning and it has the Gothic atmosphere nailed down to a tee. Some of the moonlight shots of the village or the fog-drenched forest are beautiful – almost Tim Burton-like at times. There’s so much eye candy on display as the sets are lavishly furnished, faithfully recreated from days gone by and brought to life with superb cinematography. The sweeping Victorian settings are faithfully recreated and it’s good to be able to see where money was well spent – take for instance the bustling streets of London during the asylum escape sequence. The nearest film I can recall to conjuring up such a world was Sleepy Hollow and I was getting the same moody vibe here.
It’s the acting and casting that is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. Benicio Del Toro is dreadful as Lawrence Talbot. He’s bland and unemotional in his human state and has about as much go about him as a dead parrot. As attractive as she is, Emily Blunt is wasted in a throwaway role as the love interest. She’s there to pout, cry, look good and then provide some sort of moment towards the end of the film where she confronts the wolfman and he shows a brief moment of humanity. But was the romantic plot necessary? After all, she was her brother’s fiancé and he hasn’t been dead two minutes before she’s already moved onto his sibling.
Anthony Hopkins is equally as dismal as Sir John Talbot. He chews up the scenery with little conviction and slums through his dialogue as if he’s been woken up after a night out. Hugo Weaving is decent as Inspector Abberline but arrives too late in the film to save it.
The Wolfman is decent at times, dreadful at others. Maybe that this is the best we could have expected given the much-publicised problems it had during production but with the talent in front of and behind the camera, it should have been way better. Let’s hope that lessons will be learned from this episode and the wolfman story is given the proverbial silver bullet for the foreseeable future.