Film review – The Wolfman (2010)

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro)

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.


© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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  1. What a disappointment. I’ll still see the movie, since I’ve loved films that weren’t exactly well-received critically, but after so much chaos throughout the production, I honestly wanted The Wolfman to be a case of something beautiful emerging from all of the insanity.

    Just out of curiosity, what did you think of Danny Elfman’s score? Furthermore, how is Geraldine Chaplin’s performance as the gypsy lady? From the pre-release clips, her performance struck me as quite intense…

  2. Hi Matt

    I’m starting to feel like a bit of downer for reacting this way towards a film that so many people seem to be anticipating so enthusiastically but I had to call it as I saw fit.

    Chaplin’s performance is fine but her part is so small that she doesn’t get much room to move. I’m usually a big fan of Elfman but I didn’t even realise that he had scored this film until I saw his name in the end credits. It’s a fairly unremarkable score but adequate.


  3. Thomas,

    I’d rather have a critic be absolutely honest when reviewing a movie, particularly one that has so much anticipation behind it. After all, I’m sure that the majority of moviegoers would be more offended by some sell-out movie critic who constantly produces blurb-friendly movie reviews without so much as one objective criticism.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. It’s a bit shocking to read that even the accomplished Walter Murch couldn’t make the film more expertly paced with his editing skills. How long would you say that the running time is without the credits? Slightly over an hour and a half?

    I’m guessing that, since Joe Johnson mentioned having to cut seventeen minutes of the film in a recent interview, the pacing consequently suffered. I believe there was also a small subplot about Hugo Weaving’s character being involved in the case of Jack the Ripper, unless it’s still mentioned in the movie to an extent…

    Thanks again!

  4. It’s hard to take a review seriously when all one does is vindictively crush a film without giving any positives.

    It’s also odd, considering the other positive reviews the film has garnered from Austrailian and French critics, who are hard to please.

    I just think this is something you chose to hate, and didn’t want to enjoy.

  5. Matt – As much as I have a huge amount of respect for editors, as they are often the unsung heroes of the filmmaking world, I think there is only so much that they can do with the material that they have to work with. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the running time was because I don’t wear a watch and our phones had to be cloaked during the screening so I didn’t pay any attention to the time. It felt long but that was probably because I was not enjoying the film.

    Sam – why on earth would I choose to hate a film? I do what I do because I love cinema and I’m always open to what every film has to offer. If you read more of my writing you’ll discover that I usually do look for the positives but in this case I really struggled and therefore responded as I saw fit. With any luck you’ll enjoy the film immensely and you can dismiss my opinions as simply a difference in taste. But in the meantime please don’t get upset with somebody’s review about a film that you are yet to see.

  6. I’m sure you went in with the best intentions.

    I guess its just a matter of taste in the material. Other reviews have called it immensely entertaining, anchored by 4 great performances.

    Oh well. What were some of the positives, in your opinion, if that’s too much to ask?

  7. It’s not too much to ask at all although as I said before, with this film I did struggle to find many positives. Nevertheless, the production design does nicely evoke old-school horror films and I quite enjoyed Hugo Weaving’s performance as Abberline, the Scotland Yard policemen. He has one great scene where his sarcasm is wonderfully venomous.

    Just to answer Matt’s earlier question – the fact that Abberline had been involved with the Jack the Ripper case is briefly mentioned once but not referred to again. It sounds like there may have been a subplot that was developed but then left out of the finished film, which is a shame as I would have liked to have seen a lot more of him.

  8. Bugger. When I heard del Toro was cast in this I thought it would surely be good.

    Hopefully I’ll enjoy it with the lowered expectations.

  9. Well…since your the only negative I read so far (5 positives). I’m sure I will enjoy this classic horror remake. The other critics have much more clout than you od.

  10. I’m afraid Thomas is right. Just saw The Wolfman at a press screening, and it’s not very good. Benicio Del Toro is shockingly bad! I laughed out loud many times during his line delivery. Most people I talked to at my screening didn’t like it much either. It’s dull, passionless, and poorly acted (with the exception of Weaving).

    Also, don’t defend a movie you haven’t seen yet.

  11. Some of my favourite damning reviews of The Wolfman from other critics:

    ‘Nothing wrong here that a silver bullet couldn’t fix.’

    ‘Not so much howlingly bad as it is disappointingly lifeless.’

    ‘Decent production values and makeup can’t compensate for the dramatically inert text, made worse by banal dialogue even gifted Del Toro can’t help, and helmer’s little understanding of the genre, the anxiety, fear, fun it has offered viewers for decades.’

    And my fave:

    ‘Congratulations Universal – you made Van Helsing 2.’

  12. Damn, I’m universally disappointed — I always liked Emily Blunt, and despite the fact that he kind of creeps me out, I think Benicio del Toro is a great actor and an underrated comedian.

    Oh, and great site … found you through 600 Movies Blogs You Might Have Missed (which, if you didn’t know where on there, you are).

  13. Thanks Austin and Richard – as much as I don’t take any pleasure in the fact that it is a bad film, it is something of a relief to know that I’m by far the only person who found it to be so.

    Hi Mr Cater – I think Benicio de Toro is a wonderful actor too, which is why his performance in this is so disappointing. I did see that 600 Movie Blogs list on Total Films and was extremely pleased to have been included. Glad you like my site and cheers!

  14. I saw The Wolfman a few days ago, and absolutely loved it. (Yes, I’m the user who commented before viewing the film). I felt that the cinematography was top-notch, the transformations looked incredible, and the dialogue was well-written. I’m glad I went in with different expectations, but I still appreciate your viewpoint and, yes, I could also see why this film may polarize audiences.

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