***(out of four stars)
I saw the Wolfman when it opened back in February of 2010. My initial reaction to the film was very positive. I still stand by this film - even after watching it three times - including the extended cut.
To tell you the complete truth, I was very reluctant to even see this film. It was plagued with problems from the moment of its inception. After a long list of directors either backing out or just not fitting the bill, it was decided that Joe Johnston would direct the picture. Then, he threw out the original script, hired his own writer and went from there. When the film was finally completed it was pushed back nearly two years. This usually means that something is drastically wrong with the film if they are still doing re shoots after principal photography had long finished. Many speculated on how good this film could possibly be. In the end, the film received negative reviews and made very little money at the box office.
With the abundance of remakes being done each year it was almost destined that something as untouchable as the Wolfman would eventually be toyed with.
It had been nearly seventy years since Lon Chaney Jr. played the role of the sympathetic, Lawrence Talbot. Now, many moons later, (pun intended) Benicio Del Doro is running around in the Oscar Award winning Wolfman make-up by the legendary, Rick Baker.
Here's a concise run down of the film:
Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) is out and about in the dark woods. He is viciously attacked, maimed and killed by a werewolf. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is a Shakespearean actor and is contacted by Ben's Fiance, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). At this point they don't know that Ben is dead, so Lawrence returns to his native Blackmoor to try and help find him. Upon his arrival, he finds out that Ben's body had been found and stored in a slaughter house. From his wounds, it is apparent that Ben had been killed by some kind of animal. Lawrence's estranged father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) offers temporary shelter for his son. Lawrence and Sir John have a unhealthy past ever since the supposed suicide of his mother. Later, Lawrence visits some gypsies on a full moon. A werewolf attacks the camp and Lawrence is bitten. Now, he's doomed with lycanthropy.
Okay, before I talk about the positive attributes of the film, I'll state the negatives. First, I'm not a huge fan of CGI. When it's done correctly and believably it's fine. But there are certain scenes in this film that throw me for a loop. One, for example, is a scene where Lawrence has transformed into the wolf and is running around on top of some buildings. The CGI, in my opinion, isn't adequate for the times. It looks horrible, to put it lightly. And when the wolf runs on all fours it looks cartoonish. This was something that director, Joe Johnston had done re shoots on. Originally the wolf was running on two legs, which looked better to me anyway. Second, is the love angle between Lawrence and his brother's fiance, Gwen. I find it hard to believe that she can easily move on and fall in love with another man immediately after the death of her soon to be husband. It's the guys brother for Christ sake! I see where they were trying to go with it, but it just didn't feel natural. I understand that the romantic angle helps with character development, but why should I feel sorry for him. I'm already sympathetic because he's got an incurable disease that he's dealing with. I don't give a shit if he love his brother's girl. Who cares. Why is it in there? Does it even need to be?
Enough with the negative. The reasons why this film works for me is because of the atmosphere, the folklore and the acting. Benicio Del Toro does a fine job as Lawrence Talbot. He captures that same sympathy that allured me into the original 1941 classic. Del Toro is no Lon Chaney Jr., but he conveys that emotion and helps the viewer get into the story. And when the scene isn't plagued with CGI and Del Toro is running around in full practical make-up, it really impresses me. I loved watching him slaughter the townsfolk and at certain parts the gore was spot on.
The make-up is stellar and Rick Baker actually won an Oscar for his stunning work. I was very impressed with what he did with the Wolfman concept. This is a film that leans heavily on makeup and if it isn't done right; then the film would ultimately fail. Thankfully, the legend is still proving why he's one of the best. Hence the reason why the film didn't fail for me.
The rest of the cast fits the bill. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins are good in their roles. Hopkins is convincing as the estranged father and Blunt is constantly torn; while trying to help find a cure for Lawrence. Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Francis Abberline and he's probably my second favorite actor in this movie. His scenes with the Wolfman are intense and some of the best in the film.
You know, I hear a lot of horror fans dog on this film. I'm still not sure why. I realize I'm in the minority here, but this film is actually a really good, poignant remake. Yes, there are flaws in this film. Yes, there are certain elements - like the CGI and love angle - that could have been avoided, but as a whole this film is highly recommended by me. Just like the wave of Zombie movies that are made each year; only a few stand the test of time. This is also true with werewolf films. You get many, but only a few are really good. This - in my opinion - is a prime example of a werewolf film done right. Atmosphere... Great Make-up... adequate acting and some great gore effects!
One final note. When I purchased the DVD it came with the regular theatrical version and the director's cut. The director's cut has a nice little scene with Max Von Sydow. In this scene he gives Lawrence the infamous silver-headed cane. Director Joe Johnston took out these little scenes in the theatrical version to hurry up the first transformations.
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving and Anthony Hopkins
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Directed by: Joe Johnston
119 min (unrated director's cut)