The Wolfman

by | Jun 29th, 2010 | 9:06AM | Filed under: DVD Reviews, Movies

Despite having all the right (hairy) pieces in place, this uneven new Wolfman doesn’t quite work as a whole. But if you can hang in there during the pretty-but-rote stretches, there’s R-rated gory fun to be had when the beast finally cuts loose.

[The following is a REPRINT of the original redblog review of The Wolfman on its theatrical release. The Wolfman is now on DVD and available for rental from the redboxes.]

In The Wolfman, Benicio del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot learns you can go home again–as long as you remember to bring a supply of anti-tick lotion and a tug toy. Talbot, a Shakespearean actor in late-Victorian England, returns from decades of travel to decaying Talbot Manor to investigate the death of his brother. Instead he runs afoul of gypsy curses, a guilt-tripping  landed-gentry father (laid down with Anthony Hopkins’ usual bat-snot crazy paternal authority), Scotland Yard (represented by Hugo Weaving’s terrifying mutton-chop sideburns), and of course that Ol’ Devil Moon and the Beast Within.

Yep, we’re in horror remake territory, though for a nice change, it’s not all naked teenagers getting diced and skewered. The Wolfman is a fairly loving ode to the 1941 Universal horror film The Wolf Man (starring Lon Cheney, Jr. as the woefully hirsute antagonist), so this time it’s well-tailored Victorians who find their throats slashed, their bowler-topped heads setting off in opposite directions from their bodies, and their bowels suddenly disem-ed. Set in 1891 Blackmoor, England, there are stunningly portentous skies, foggy moon-lit nights, and dark halls draped in cobwebs and family secrets.

Unlike Universal’s amusement-park-ride/movie Mummy franchise, this new Wolfman is not played for campy (intentional) laughs, nor, thankfully, is it updated to contemporary times and filled with a bunch of pretty faces from the CW Network. No, this is a “serious” retelling with serious ahck-tohrs, a la Coppola’s Dracula with Gary Oldman or Branagh’s Frankenstein with De Niro.

Unfortunately as directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III, Jumanji, Hildago), The Wolfman is sometimes too reverent, with lots of gloomy vistas and stilted, polite conversations among the genteel. We already know what’s going on far ahead of time (the “I feel stronger, my senses are more acute” scenes are deadly in all the wrong ways), so the film feels more like a respectful homage, a useless bauble, than full-blooded entertainment in its own right. 

Johnston is a solid journeyman director of steady lite action, but he lacks the lunatic vision could have used. You can enjoy The Wolfman for its affectionate dedication to old-school horror on the moors–as a visual textbook on Victorian arch-Gothic creepiness, the film looks very nice. But for at least the first half, it lacks any sort of internal dramatic or horrific drive. Despite some nifty stuff with feral kids and ice-water mental treatments, Johnston just doesn’t have enough weirdness in his veins to fill the manors, gypsy camps, and village pubs with the sort of phantasmagorical paranoia they clamor for.

Johnston also seems unsure what to do with his cast of quality actors. He can’t get some of them started (when he’s not howling at the moon, del Toro comes off like a mumbling Muttley the Dog) and can’t get some of them stopped (Sir Anthony is clearly off his meds and his leash, indulging all British thespians’ right to ham it up in horror films). Poor Emily Blunt has the classic “Monster’s Girlfriend” role, putting her versatile talent to work playing nursemaid, curse-researcher, and dog groomer.

Only Weaving, a veteran of both The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix trilogies, consistently strikes the right balance, even if his Inspector Aberline’s contemptuous snarls have more than a little Agent Smith in them. (If the character’s name sounds familiar it’s because Scotland Yard’s Frederick “Francis” Abberline was an actual person—the lead investigator on the Ripper murders, he’s also portrayed by Johnny Depp in From Hell.) Part of The Wolfman‘s problem is it craves a more dynamic, extroverted actor than the talented del Toro–in that regard, I’d be all for a sequel starring Weaving.

Luckily, while the first half has bits of gruesome gore (and this is a very violent film), eventually The Wolfman starts to go delightfully insane. In the second half more time is spent in crypts than drawing rooms, and a riotous sequence at a London asylum finally kicks the proceedings into high bloody gear. The movie gets in touch with its Famous Monsters of Movieland pulpy roots, and the fun starts.

Still even good old-fashioned ripping and tearing isn’t enough to make The Wolfman completely work as a horror film. No matter how impressive the legendary Rick Baker’s makeup effects are, you still end up with a half-wolf, half-human, running around upright in tattered human clothing. The result is a “monster” that’s more silly than scary; you keep thinking Teen Wolf, not American Werewolf in London. Unable to stir up any genuine dread, The Wolfman settles for jump-shock scares and insides-out gore. But if you can stay awake during the deadly flat “character” scenes, by the end the wolf-run-amok bloodletting is enough to shake some B-movie fun loose along with the rolling heads.

The Wolfman is on DVD and available for rental from redbox.

15 Responses to “The Wolfman

  1. Jawawaxer
    Posted on June 29, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I think this movie can be summed up with two words.

    Wookie fight!

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on June 29, 2010 at 9:27 am


    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Posted on June 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with Locke, and I have no substance to add to his review. Wookie fight is right! Flat footed del Toro was extraordinarily effective in Traffic, but such mien was an annoyance here. I was particularly annoyed by the Max von Sydow (Virgin Spring, 3 Days of the Condor) sequence for building expectations with the walking stick only to see Hopkins use it as any ordinary hook and Weaving only holding it at the end. Cut, comes to mind. That said, i enjoyed the humor (Though I think King Laer (Give Sir Anthony another son.) woulda worked better than Hamlet; Blackmore Manor was a good joke, though.), the action, and the gore; if it hadn’t a been so disjointed, I could give Wolfman four stars. All and all, I’d tell Yorick (read Singh), it had to be, or not to be, good fun. A once watch.

  3. Bob
    Posted on July 2, 2010 at 12:26 am

    This movie was disappointing, could have been so much better!

  4. Lucie Burd
    Posted on July 3, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Don’t waste your time or money on this movie. It was absolutely horrible.

    • Currently 2/5 Stars
    Posted on July 3, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Eh! Seen better!

    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Posted on July 3, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    good movie!!, I thought Antony hopkins looks like Sean Conory…

  5. NyaTonyagirl925
    Posted on July 4, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    This movie I guess can be said as a man’s movie. I wasn’t in to it because of the time period it was set back in the old world and i’m not for movies set in old times they just bore me. But my husband liked it. [SPOILER ALERT] It was the dad all a long how worse is it when a father kills his on son.

  6. jrbear
    Posted on July 5, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Beautifully mounted and filmed. Perfect cast(on paper). great special effects. where did it go so wrong? It bombed at the box-office. It’s not as awful as most would say, but not real good either; kinda boring.
    Del Toro seemed to be the perfect guy to play the brooding tormented wolf-man. he even looks a lot like a young Lon Chaney Jr.
    But people don’t like it when the HERO is not a hero, but a hapless victim.

    Emily Blunt is perfect as the prim and proper GF. But she has no sex appeal and wears 50 Lbs of clothes. [SPOILER ALERT] Having his Dad(Hopkins) be the ‘real wolf-man’ was a twist that didn’t really work and seemed un-ness’y. [END SPOILER]
    I kept mentally comparing it to the other recent Universal retro-horror mega hit it tried to follow in the footsteps of…”Van Helsing”. That hit had a sexy and likable HERO lead, the always sexy Kate Beckensale wearing a leather corset and peasant blouse that made her seem topless. It had sexy Vampire Women who were naked. It didn’t try to follow the ‘canon’ of all the monsters in it and had fantastic set piece fight scenes. Everything teenage boy audiences love.
    Maybe it should have cast ‘younger’ with CW stars that appeal to the teenage 1st week audiences? Maybe Were-wolves just are not “In”, and Vampires are?

    • Currently 2/5 Stars
    Posted on July 6, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Boring movie. Del Toro and Blunt had no chemistry. SPOILER…I didn’t understand why the father would do this to his son.

    • Currently 3/5 Stars
    Posted on July 7, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    3 stars: one for misty nighttime forests, one for cloudy English countrysides, and one for jumping around on rooftops (and the wookie fight comment).

  7. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 7, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Wookie Fight!!!

    All night long!!!

    • Currently 1/5 Stars
    Nancy Wilson
    Posted on August 6, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    So dissappointed with this one. Love Anthony Hopkins but come on. The Special effects looked ridiculous. This one could have been so much better. Great Actors, poor direction. Sorry can’t reccommend this one.

  8. Jill Schroen
    Posted on September 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Watchable, but forgetable