Published Feb 11, 2010Borrowing its characters' names and a handful of plot points from 1941's The Wolf Man, The Wolfman re-imagines the classic men-becoming-wolves tale to varying degrees of success.
The familiar story follows prodigal son and noted thespian Larry Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) as he returns to his hometown and distant father (Anthony Hopkins) after a hairy beast murders his brother. On a fact-finding night time jaunt, he encounters the hirsute monster, loses a chunk of his arm and gains a moon-inspired temper. Victorian bloodshed and familial infighting ensue.
From the outset, the film can't decide how farcical it should be. Thus, despite the laughable dialogue and contrived interactions, Del Toro and a wasted Emily Blunt ill advisedly play it straight for most of the first act. Faring far better, Hopkins joyously chews the scenery with a devilish wink and grin, while Hugo Weaving shines as a wry, dry Scotland Yard investigator.
Aesthetically, director Joe Johnston and cinematographer Shelly Johnson have created a frequently dour but often gorgeous world, replete with a crisp, grey palette and more shots of the moon than a Mighty Boosh episode. Also, lupine makeup specialist Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Wolf) does an expectedly great job fashioning man-to-wolfman transitions. Conversely, the sound department's unnecessarily heavy hand forces frights rather than letting the tried-and-true central conceit draw the chills.
Regardless of the script's occasional pretension (do we really need Oedipal intimations, easy Shakespearean allusions and a PB Shelley quote?), a wolfman story is all about moonlit mayhem. This take hits its stride when it embraces its inherent macabre wackiness, especially when its furry lead runs amuck in a surreal insane asylum, with its very own Freud facsimile, no less, and wreaks havoc across London.
Way over-cast and tonally inconsistent, The Wolfman is ostensibly terrible, though it is often a lot of fun, albeit not always intentionally. (Universal)