Review: The Wolfman

The Wolfman looks great thanks to some wonderful photography but Rick Baker’s great make-up effects fail to gloss over the film’s distinct lack of thrills.

Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Released: 2010 / Genre: Romance/Horror / Country: USA / IMDB

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I was more intrigued by the thought of Rick Baker (the man who created the mesmerising special make-up effects in John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London) being involved in The Wolfman remake than either Benicio del Toro in the lead role or Jurassic Park III director Joe Johnston behind the camera. And Baker doesn’t disappoint as the man-monster who preys on townsfolk at full moon looks great when Johnston focuses on the live action effects as opposed to the computer generated kind. But that shouldn’t sound too damning on director Johnston who, despite making a film that has its flaws in both plot and character, beautifully recreates late 19th century England in a washed out haze that duly stirs the senses in an atmosphere of foreboding menace.

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The Wolfman, a remake of the Universal Pictures classic from 1941 that starred Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Bela Lugosi, sticks true to the premise of the original before elaborating on the plot and embarking on a wholly new story. The 2010 reincarnation sees the world-renowned actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) return to his family’s estate following the death of his brother. Lawrence views the mauled body of his brother and, deeply shocked, sets out to discover who could have murdered him. It becomes clear a beast is stalking the townsfolk and Lawrence gets caught in one of its attacks. He survives but is bitten by the monster. At the next full moon Lawrence transforms into a werewolf and goes on a murderous rampage. When he turns back into human form he is handed over to the police by his estranged father Sir John (Sir Anthony Hopkins). Bathed in blood, Lawrence is arrested for all the murders and taken to a mental asylum in London. The doctors believe him to be insane but come the next full moon, Lawrence’s newly acquired thirst for human flesh promises to change the prescription.

The film was originally announced in 2006 with Benicio del Toro in the lead role. Del Toro had been a lifelong fan of the original film and always wanted to play the role made famous by Lon Chaney Jr. In The Wolfman he brings with him an air of well-travelled experience, playing the famous actor Lawrence Talbot. But, the inherent pain of which he suffers over witnessing the gruesome death of his mother, which prompted him to leave the family estate, is far too mechanical. Perhaps Lawrence is too ordinary for an actor of del Toro’s quirky charm. It therefore feels staged and is about as authentic as the supposed father-son relationship between Puerto Rican del Toro and Welshman Sir Anthony Hopkins.

But The Wolfman does look fantastic. From the production design to the special-effects to Shelly Johnson’s wonderful photography, the film looks the part. If nothing else, you know you are watching a film budgeted at $150 million. And, while del Toro fails to bring any energy to the film, Hopkins and Hugo Weaving most definitely do. Hopkins is his usual self, suave and sophisticated in everything he does with a slight riff on that old Hannibal Lector menace. Weaving is excellent as Inspector Aberline, playing a sort of tough-nut Sherlock Holmes without the sidekick.

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But neither actor can make up for the film’s distinct lack of thrills. There are moments of panic-induced excitement – the sequence when Lawrence first gets bitten and his break out from the asylum are fast-paced eye-candy – but director Johnston appears far too hurried in his lead-up to the film’s more extravagant moments, forgetting to build suspense. It therefore comes as little surprise that the film found its release date constantly pushed back as the filmmakers tweaked the story. The film’s huge budget might account for it looking like the horror film it wants to be, but it fails to gloss over its failures in technique.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    When I saw the trailer for this I was quite excited about it. Del Toro is, normally, great and I really like Blunt as well. However, for one reason or another I didn’t see at the cinema.

    Great review, Dan, and you’ve got me interested in seeing it again. I will hunt it down on LOVEFiLM!

  2. Avatar
    Adam Moody Reply

    I was interested in seeing this when it came out, but critic reviews scared me away. I will check it out some time. Good review

  3. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    yep, the film was visually nice.
    I think the film had terrible casting. Del Toro just doesn’t have looks, talent nor charisma to be lead actor in anything, he should stick to supporting roles. Hopkins and Blunt were nice, although Blunt just doesn’t go with Toro. The film needed someone else in the lead role.

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    Sir Phobos Reply

    Well, I hate this movie. The pacing is pretty awful, for one. It feels like there should have been at least another 45 minutes added to slow it down a bit and let the characters breathe. I guess I can agree that the visual style was pretty cool in a general sense, but the CG was atrocious. Do you remember the gypsy bear? It wasn’t just the bear, though. Every time it showed him running on all fours, I felt ashamed to be watching.

    What else…del Toro was doing his best Keanu Reeves impression. He was wooden as hell throughout the whole thing.

    The one thing that was awesome about this movie was Hugo Weaving, but he was barely in it. I wanted a LOT more of Aberline.

    I recently watched the director’s cut, which added 18 minutes. I have no idea where those 18 minutes were tucked away, because it was the same movie except for a different opening scene. Oh, well.

  5. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Adam & Claire: Don’t rush to see the film as it is flawed but it does have some merit.

    @Dezmond: I think del Toro can do better than this but he wasn’t good here. You’re right to say there was a mismatch between del Toro and Blunt, but that wasn’t half as bad as the supposed father-son match-up between del Toro and Welshman Anthony Hopkins.

    @Sir Phobos: Great analysis – I’ve seen del Toro be much more charismatic, or perhaps idiosyncratic, in other films which suggested to me the role simply wasn’t right for him (and it certainly wasn’t well-written).

    And I agree that some of the CGI was pretty horrible. But to counter that I liked the transformation, Rick Baker’s make-up and the film looked great throughout. I guess that’s what $150 million gets you.

    I totally agree about Hugo Weeving and should have mentioned in the review that I too would have liked to have seen more from him. In fact, the same story with him as the chief protagonist would have been far more interesting.

  6. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    I, on the other hand, thought the film was better than many others did. I actually thought Del Toro was well cast as the wolf man, even if the script did him no favors.

    And I concur: Hugo Weaving should have been front and center in this thing. He was awesome in it.

  7. Avatar
    Paragraph Film Reviews Reply

    I remember being embarrassed for everyone involved when I saw this in a packed cinema and everyone was laughing at the cheese/campy aspects (what was Hopkins thinking?!?!?).

  8. Avatar
    Jaccstev Reply

    Completely agree with your review, Dan!

  9. Avatar
    Elissa Reply

    This is more or less what I’ve heard about the movie. You’ve got me curious to check it out again. With perhaps appropriately low expectations.

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    Film-Book dot Com Reply

    “It therefore feels staged and is about as authentic as the supposed father-son relationship between Puerto Rican del Toro and Welshman Sir Anthony Hopkins.”

    AHAHAH. Good one. Nice observation.

    This movie was far better than I was expecting but it could have been better.

    You know what was weird and I do not know if this had to do with the editing problems that the film had or not: there is a great and very interesting scene on a train at the beginning of the film that ended with Wolfman getting a cane with silver handle and dagger and then that cane dagger and its implications completely disappear. What the hell was that? A great actor has one scene in this film, supposedly an important scene, and nothing is made of it. What a shame.

    On the plus side, I liked the plot of father, sons, and wife in the past and the final werewolf confrontation was great, far better than anything in Twilight.

  11. Avatar
    TheScarletSp1der Reply

    the film intrigued me when I saw the trailer, bored me when I saw the film, and finally entertained me when it bombed! (the fact that it did) haha.

    I wish I could say I liked it. I really do. I like monster movies, especially the classics. Glad they scrapped the idea of the sequel in favor of making it a reboot soon to come!

    I agree with your review and your score. Nice write up!

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