It’s rare when a good movie begs to be lengthened, but they do come along once in a blue moon. The Wolfman is one such film. It has a mostly excellent cast, wonderful production value, good direction and one of the best stories anyone can imagine. That’s why it’s a shame that The Wolfman clocks in at little more than your average 90-minute getaway at the movie theater. Still, despite not meeting its full potential, The Wolfman hits all of the necessary points to deliver a fun and satisfying viewing experience.
The Talbot family has suffered extremely personal strife over the years. Sir Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) lost his wife to suicide with his son Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) looking on. To help Lawrence cope with the sight, Sir Talbot commits Lawrence for a year in an insane asylum before shipping him off to America. Many years later, Lawrence is summoned back to the Talbot estate by his brother’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt). When Lawrence returns, he finds his brother mutilated by what the locals think is a beast. When Lawrence confronts the beast, he’s bitten and turns into a beast himself. Now he must find the source of his curse before more innocent people die and before he’s captured or killed by the intrepid Scotland Yard detective Abberline (Hugo Weaving).
At its heart, the story of the Wolfman is an internal conflict – or at least it should be. This tale is about a man who is losing his humanity and is potentially a danger to those he cares for most. While this aspect is still intact in this incarnation of the story, it’s greatly accelerated. Instead of watching Lawrence build a real relationship with Gwen he instead gets perfunctory “intimate” scenes with her that supposedly cue the audience into thinking there’s something there. Lawrence’s frustration with his curse is also boiled down to little more than angry looks in the mirror and a few disturbing dreams. So while the audience understands what Lawrence is going through that comprehension is only on an intellectual basis and his plight doesn’t penetrate the heart in the way that great drama always does.
The cast does a fine job of selling the story overall. Emily Blunt gave the most natural performance of all the actors and it’s a shame she didn’t get more screen time. She was the only one who really looked like she was in the moment and could have truly existed in the story. Hugo Weaving was enjoyable to watch as well and looked like the only cast member who was having any fun with his part. He just seems like a perfect fit for eloquent authoritative figures. Anthony Hopkins comes off flat and affected, which is a real shame since he’s usually fantastic in this kind of film (see Dracula). Benicio Del Toro, unfortunately, turns in the weakest performance of the cast. His acting is wooden for the most part and he walks around with the same sleepy expression throughout most of the film. There’s very little variation between his emotions, which makes it difficult for audiences to sympathize with him – not good for a lead character.
The special effects look great and the werewolf transformations are the best anyone have done to date. The CG werewolf models also looked real enough and rarely betrayed their computer origins. The sets look authentic for the era and the Talbot estate is sufficiently dreary. The cinematographer also made excellent use of light and shadow to set up beautiful shots that conveyed the proper foreboding. The visuals were perfectly in tune with the psychology of the Wolfman story, but for some reason the tone of the film didn’t match.
Instead of focusing on the internal struggle of Lawrence, The Wolfman focused more on the external, physical struggle. As such, audiences should prepare to watch an action movie instead of a drama. While a little brutality is expected in the Wolfman story – he is a werewolf, after all – the levels of gore and viscera in this film are gratuitously over the top. People are constantly decapitated and dismembered. Entrails punctuate the bloody ground, like freshly made sausages spilled on a butcher shop floor. One poor soul has the werewolf driving his claws through his chin and out his mouth, using his mandible as a kind of human handle. Another scene of human butchery explains why all exit doors must open outward, lest you remain trapped inside a room with a savage beast bent on chewing on your guts.
The Wolfman isn’t necessarily scary, but it is startling. It seems as though that since the Wolfman has been associated with horror for so long the filmmakers decided that audiences needed to be frightened. So instead of creating the kind of desperate atmosphere one feels when being hunted, the filmmakers elected to throw rapid movements and cuts at the audience accompanied by stingers. Thankfully, they had some sense of innovation and went with “double scares”. So just when the audience thought the scare had passed – here comes another one! ROAR!
Overall, audiences are going to have a good time. Everything about The Wolfman is done competently. It looks good. It’s acted well. And everyone can appreciate the story. It just won’t affect anyone.