Clap For The Wolfman? A Spoiler-Free Review!


I tried really, really hard to like Universal’s update of The Wolfman, I really did. I’m a sucker for lycanthropy flicks, having seen The Howling, Wolfen, and An American Werewolf In London more times than I care to remember. I followed the movie’s tortured path to the multiplex (more on that later) to the screen with much interest, and made sure I was there to support it on opening night. I even proudly wore my Monster Squad “Wolfman’s Got Nards” t-shirt! Unfortunately, despite having a good cast and the most dependable go-to guy for monster effects in its corner, The Wolfman feels less like a movie and more like product—a once-valuable corporate property being dusted off and trotted out once more to make a few bucks.

 Acclaimed thespian Lawrence Talbot returns to his family’s ancestral estate on the moors when his brother is killed by a mysterious beast, and when he joins the hunt to find the creature, he is attacked and bitten by the feral creature. As Talbot recovers from his injuries, he is protected by his eccentric father (Anthony Hopkins, now apparently the go-to guy to play the Crazy Old Man in classic monster remakes—see his performance as Professor Van Helsing in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula remake for more details) and nursed back to health by his brother’s grieving fiancée (Emily Blunt). However, once the full moon rises again, Talbot sprouts hair and fangs and goes on a killing spree. No amount of Victorian-era crackpot psychiatry--like a good old fashioned strait-jacketed dunking into a pool of ice cubes, for instance--will cure him; it seems only a silver bullet will do the job.

 The cast of The Wolfman acquits themselves admirably, particularly Del Toro. With his haunted eyes and hangdog intensity, he’s the perfect actor to play a civilized man struggling with his inner beast. Hugo Weaving has a nice turn as the inspector hot on the werewolf’s trail, and Hopkins throws himself into his part with loony gusto. The creature effects were designed by the legendary Rick Baker, who won an Academy Award for his work in An American Werewolf In London. His upright-walking, partially clothed Wolf Man has a nice classic look, and the transformation sequences recall AAWIL’s bone-wrenching grossness. It’s too bad that the majority of the transformations are achieved using CGI, as their video-game smoothness can’t measure up to the how-the-heck-did-they-do-that magic of Baker’s earlier practical effects work. The transformations themselves also whiz by too fast—any fan of the genre will happily tell you that that’s usually the best part of a werewolf movie! This rushed pace represents an overall problem with the film, which at times feels like one big montage. We’re introduced to the characters in a hurry, their relationships develop too quickly…even the story’s Big Twist seems to arrive about one act too early. Aside from some hinted-at Freudian ickiness in the Talbot family, there’s not much in the way of subtext or relevance either, just monster madness for its own sake. Which is fine, but not always enough to make a movie stay with you after the credits roll.

 The Wolfman was a famously troubled production—original director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) left the project over creative differences right before shooting, and Joe Johnston (director of The Rocketeer, and soon-to-be Captain America helmer) stepped in at the last possible second. The film was pulled from its original 2008 release for reshoots and retooling, and then yanked from Universal’s schedule again right before its proposed Halloween 2009 release. With all the behind-the-scenes drama, it’s a wonder The Wolfman is watchable at all, but it is—I’d certainly rather sit through it again a dozen more times than have to watch another Saw sequel. Sadly, though, I don’t see this new interpretation of the werewolf legend capturing the zeitgeist any time soon. Maybe we should hold out hope for the long-gestating remake of The Creature From The Black Lagoon?