Abandoned by its original director and with its release date pushed back several times before finally being unleashed on audiences, The Wolfman arrives with very low expectations that it meets with gusto. A loose remake of the 1941 Universal monster film The Wolf Man, this new incarnation of the classic werewolf story initially looks like an enticing blend of the original film, Hammer Horror films and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. However, it very quickly becomes apparent that the The Wolfman fails to capture any of the magic or thrills that this would suggest.
Set in 1891 Lawrence Talbot, played by Benicio del Toro, returns home to Blackmoor in England after the death of his brother. The audience knows a werewolf got his brother, many of the film’s characters know that a werewolf got him and yet the film takes a painfully long time to arrive at the point where it is ‘revealed’ that a werewolf is to blame. By that point Talbot has been bitten and is starting to notice that his body is changing.
The Wolfman demonstrates what truly bad writing really is. Del Toro’s uncharacteristically soap-opera acting style doesn’t help the horribly trite dialogue and Anthony Hopkins, as Talbot’s father, certainly doesn’t help either by sounding bored beyond comprehension throughout the entire film. Emily Blunt as Talbot’s brother’s fiancé and Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard policeman do a little better but only just.
The poor pacing, blatantly obvious narrative signposting and over-reliance on false scares generated by sudden sounds and movements, removes any chance of The Wolfman actually being frightening. The gore is not gruesome enough to be shocking and not over-the-top enough to be fun schlock. It’s a terribly serious film and as a result very dull. One minor point of interest is the representation of a psychiatrist as a mad scientist character since it would be interesting to find out if the filmmakers actually intended on depicting the hysterical religious fanatic characters as being right all along while the scientific community appear as villainous fools.
The Wolfman contains elements that evoke The Crow (long roof top chase), the various King Kong films (creature is brought to a populated city where it goes wild) and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula (romance doomed by one of them being a murderous monster). It is a damning comparison in every case and even the supposedly state-of-the-art transformation sequences fall seriously short of the effects used in John Landis’s 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. On the plus side there are a few unintentional giggles to be had over the fact that once transformed into the werewolf, Talbot looks and sounds a lot like Chewbacca.