Universal Studios new Wolfman movie finally made its way into theaters, after several false starts. There were reportedly script problems, reshoots, a complete overhaul of the musical score and even a replacement director, so it's no wonder that the movie feels disjointed and incomplete.
The Wolfman certainly looks like a proper old school Gothic horror movie, but it's yet another case of style over substance.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHOY!
The story is set in Victorian England (kudos to the studio for not trying to update it to modern times) and opens as Ben Talbot has gone missing from his small village, which is surrounded by misty woods and moors. His dutiful fiance Gwen (Emily Blunt) writes to his brother Lawrence (played unenthusiastically by Benicio del Toro), begging him to help with the search for Ben. Lawrence reluctantly returns to the crumbling and spooky family mansion and his estranged father (played by Anthony Hopkins). There's bad blood between the two; after the death of his mother, Lawrence was placed in a mental institution by his father for several years. I can see how that might drive a wedge between father and son.
Ben's mangled and lifeless body is soon found and before Lawrence can return to London, he's attacked by a werewolf in a gypsy camp (don't ask). He recovers back at the mansion, tended to by Gwen, who gets over the loss of her fiance in record time and starts mooning unconvincingly over Lawrence. Larry heals completely and quickly, but during the next full moon he finds himself turning into a werewolf and ravaging the countryside.
Later he's captured and taken back to his old asylum in London, he turns into a werewolf, he escapes, he runs around the city for a while, mayhem ensues and eventually he comes back to the ancestral mansion and has a duel with his father, who also turns out to be a werewolf. The very werewolf who attacked him earlier in the movie, in fact. Eventually Lawrence (in wolf form) encounters Gwen, who kills him with a silver bullet, thus ending his curse.
Benicio del Toro absolutely snoozes through his role as Lawrence. Reportedly he'd been anxious to play this part for years, but he completely wastes the opportunity. Nary an emotion flickers across his stoic features throughout the entire movie. He wears the same mopey expression in every scene. Upon seeing his brother's bloody corpse, his face registers the same amount of emotion it would as if he discovered that the toast is burnt. To say he sleepwalks through the role is an understatement at best, and an insult to somnambulists the world over.
What's hilarious is that his Lawrence Talbot character is supposed to be a world famous Shakespearean actor (!). I guess audiences weren't very demanding back then. It would have been more believable if they'd said he was a Victorian era astronaut.
Anthony Hopkins isn't much better as Lawrence's father. He speaks loudly and enunciates well, but seems like there's someplace he'd rather be. Emily Blunt plays Gwen and does what she can with an underwritten part. Quite honestly they could have replaced her with any of a number of other current actress halfway through the film and I don't think I would have noticed. There's a nice exchange between her and Lawrence as he teaches her to skip stones, but other than that she's largely forgettable.
I didn't buy Gwen's sudden love for Lawrence either. Here's a woman living in a repressive Victorian society who's just lost her fiance, and we're supposed to believe that in the space of one month (based on the constant shots of the moon) she completely forgets about him and starts lusting after his mopey brother? They'd have tarred and feathered her for even thinking of such a stunt.
Because this is The Wolfman, much has been made of the makeup and the transformations. Honestly I was underwhelmed. Rick Baker is a genius and an awesome makeup artist and his wolfman makeup gets the job done, but it doesn't do anything to push the envelope. We've simply seen it all before. They've been gluing rubber appliances and fake fur to actors since the 1930s, at least. That said, I do applaud the fact that they went with old school makeup instead of an all CGI creation (well, for most of the scenes, that is. Whenever the Wolfman needs to do anything acrobatic, he turns into a CGI cartoon). I just wish they'd done something we hadn't seen a hundred times before.
Unlike the original movie's downright serene change from man to beast, this wolfman's transformations fall squarely into the "painful contortions" camp, as he twitches and seizures his way to into wolfdom. This sort of CGI transformation has also been done many, many times in the past few years, and much better to boot. For my money, I still think the all-time best werewolf change is in An American Werewolf in London.
Another problem (for me, anyway) is that the rules of the movie are pretty vague. Lawrence is bitten by a werewolf, and a few days later turns into one. Sure, we know that the werewolf's bite transfers the curse, but only because we've all seen wolfman movies before. Silver bullets will kill him, but no one ever explains why, they just do. A monster movie needs to set up rules and follow them, not just assume that the audience knows them because they've seen similar films.
The movie is filmed beautifully, with it's foggy moors and crumbling, cobwebbed mansions. It's just been done before, and not only by the original Wolfman movie, either. It gets its pedigree (see what I did there?) from virtually every werewolf movie made since the 1930s. I wanted to like it, but there's simply no new ground covered here.
One thing I've always found amusing about the original Wolfman was how he ran around in a nice dress shirt and slacks. He even managed to keep his starched shirt buttoned up all the way as he roamed the countryside slashing and killing. So when I saw the new Wolfman movie, I thought it was hilarious that not only does this new werewolf keep the traditional shirt and slacks combo, he also adds a smart vest to his ensemble. Hey, just because he's a rampaging supernatural killer, that doesn't mean he can't be a sharp dresser as well!
So should you see it? If you've never, ever seen any kind of werewolf or other monster movie in your life, then sure. Otherwise skip it and wait for the DVD. Better yet, go hunt down a copy of the Lon Chaney original. I give the new Wolfman a C. "C" for "seen it before."