Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving
Sir John Talbot: Never look back, son. The past is a wilderness of horror.
Theoretically, I would welcome any monster movie these days that wasn’t about vampires and that also wasn’t geared towards teenage girls. When that alternative is THE WOLFMAN though, a remake of the 1941 George Waggner film, I find myself longing to have every drop of blood sucked from my body instead.
THE WOLFMAN is a bit of a pet project (pun as fully intended as the moon that brings out the beast) for star, Benicio Del Toro, as he also serves as co-producer. I suppose he saw the appeal as a potential blockbuster that would make the Oscar winner more of a household name. The possibility was certainly there but he also should have considered whether a decent script was there as well. Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a British-born, successful actor (I can hardly buy Del Toro as American, let alone a British-born American), who was exiled to the United States as a child by his father after a particularly traumatic family tragedy. He has only returned home now because his brother has gone missing.
The search for his brother leads Lawrence and the rest of this small, late 19th-century town to the discovery of The Wolfman. That discovery leads to Lawrence being bit by the beast and subsequently succumbing to the curse that comes with. The townsfolk are baffled by the atrocities inflicted by the beast upon the innocents because they have never seen anything like this before. This makes sense to me. What doesn’t is how they all seem to be familiar with Wolfman lore, like how silver bullets are required to kill him or how he only comes out when the moon is full. If this is where the legend begins, how would they even stumble upon these conclusions, let alone know them outright?
Man and beast and the differences or lack thereof between the two is a central Wolfman theme. Modernizing the tale though does not bring any new insight on the pairing. In fact, it almost seems too simplistic to still be considered revealing about human nature. Yes, man continues to struggle with its own animal instincts but these primal urges are all for show in THE WOLFMAN. The tale was clearly only updated to present it with visual effects that would do the gore justice rather than reinvigorate it with relevance. And as there aren’t that many fight sequences (waiting for lunar cycles to pass before seeing the title character reappear does not make for a great deal of suspense), even that purpose seems like an after thought.
Watching THE WOLFMAN means watching a lot more than just innocent people dying gruesome deaths on screen; it also means watching the combined talent of the ensemble cast being torn to shreds. Anthony Hopkins, as Lawrence’s father, is a kooky old man who has lost his own plot, let alone the even thinner plot of this film. Emily Blunt is as lovely as always but reduced to nonsensical character development. And Del Toro, aside from his baffling accent, is never strong enough to be considered manly or fierce enough to be seen as beastly. Fortunately, Hugo Weaving is on hand as the inspector assigned to the case. Weaving brings that special brand of bland that, if we’re all very lucky and this film does find a sizable audience, we will all get to see again in the sequel.
I have not seen the original so I cannot fairly compare but I can say that I expect THE WOLFMAN to be about raw aggression that cannot help but be let out on an unsuspecting public. Director, Joe Johnston’s take is decidedly different, focusing more on daddy issues and about finding the right woman to tame the beast. With such insipid back story, I’d say the beast in question has already been domesticated.