Dir. Joe Johnston
Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
EE.UU, Reino Unido / USA, UK
2010 | 102 min.
All of the great Universal horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s have now been remade: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man. Over the years, there have been numerous cinematic encounters with lycanthropy, but The Wolf Man is to werewolves what Dracula is to vampires. He is unique. Since Lon Chaney Jr. cast aside the mantle of Lawrence Talbot following his run-in with Abbott and Costello in 1948, no one has picked it up... until now. In accepting the part, Benicio Del Toro isn't playing a werewolf; he is playing the werewolf. It's hard to work in the long shadow cast by the likes of Karloff, Lugosi, or Cheney, but unavoidable when re-making one of their movies.
The root problem with The Wolfman is that it's a hybrid. It tries to fuse the gothic storytelling of the original with the violence and gore associated with modern horror. Director Joe Johnston wants this movie to be the bridge between the restrained, atmosphere-soaked Universal horror classic and the grotesque likes of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. It doesn't work. Parts of The Wolfman - even those that were effective in the original - have been recreated in a fashion that seems more humoristic than unsettling. More disappointing is the makeup which looks inexcusably campy. The fangs look like they were purchased at a Halloween costume store and, during the big werewolf-on-werewolf clash, I was reminded of Bigfoot from The Six Million Dollar Man. One has to wonder whether Baker's decision to remain true to the general appearance of the original Wolf Man is the right one. Nostalgia isn't always the best barometer by which to make creative decisions.
The action takes place in the 1890s on the moors of rural England. There stands the estate of Sir John Talbot (Hopkins), whose son Ben has disappeared. The other Talbot heir, Lawrence (Del Toro), now a touring stage actor, answers a plea from his brother's fiancÚ, Gwen Conliffe (Blunt), to come home and search for the missing man. By the time Lawrence reaches Talbot Hall, a mangled body has been found and a funeral has been arranged. Lawrence, determined to find the beast responsible for his brother's death, begins a hunt that leads him to a gypsy camp. While there, he is attacked by a half-man/half-wolf. The gypsy woman Maleva (Chaplin) sutures the wound, but pronounces Lawrence to be cursed: "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." Indeed, at the time of the next full moon, Lawrence is transformed and goes on a bloody rampage.
In his portrayal of Talbot, Del Toro pays homage to Cheney, almost to the point of imitation. Unfortunately, this results in a neutered and muted character. As a human being, Talbot generates no empathy; the character fails to excite our emotions. The filmmakers have surrounded Del Toro with a respectable supporting staff, but it amounts to a waste of talent. Anthony Hopkins pops up now and again looking malevolent, but Sir John is more a necessity of the plot than a legitimate character. Emily Blunt's thankless role as the "love interest" limits her screen time and her opportunity to look fetching in 19th century garb.
The Director's experience with Jumanji and Jurassic Park III convinced the producers he could handle a film with a high number of special effects sequences. At best, the results are mixed. 20 years ago, the effects work in The Wolfman might have been hailed as revolutionary; today, it looks dated. The violence is bloody and graphic but it doesn't make the movie better.
This production nevertheless illustrates that it takes more to remake a beloved classic than re-working the story and taking a by-the-numbers approach. There are enough little details to indicate that the filmmakers were familiar with the original. Such familiarity did not result in a better product and the well-publicized re-shoots didn't save the movie from the graveyard of mediocrity into which its unintentional campiness and underwhelming special effects have consigned it.