The Wolfman (2010)

The Wolf Man was a strange outlier for Universal.  The 1941 film was highly popular and influential.  Most of the werewolf lore in modern films comes from it, and most of it was the creation of Curt Siodmak, screenwriter for the original.  Larry Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr., was different from many of the other characters, being neither evil nor insane.  Rather he just had the bad luck of being turned into a werewolf while trying to save someone he barely knew.

There never was a proper sequel to the movie, with Talbot being saddled with meeting or fighting various monsters from the other Universal series rather than getting a series of his own.  Still, with the late 2000s and into the early 2010s being a remake-happy period for horror films, it was inevitable that at least one Universal property would see a modern reimagining.  Part of the reason for that is Benicio del Toro had been wanting to play the role of Lawrence Talbot for years and, while the remake sat in development hell, he was always the lead actor attached.  The result, however, was nowhere near what Universal expected.

When Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) is killed and mutilated by an unknown beast his fiancé Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) contacts his brother Lawrence.  Lawrence left long ago to the United States where he became a famous stage actor and, being in London at the time, returns to his ancestral estate and his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), in order to find out what happened.  The villagers blame a band of Gypsies and a tame bear they keep with them, but suspicions soon turn to the Talbots after Lawrence saves a woman and is himself bitten by the beast that attacks the camp. 

Gwen at first does not believe, nor does a Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (Hugo Weaving) that is investigating to see if Lawrence Talbot, who had spent time in a mental institution as a youth, may be involved.  However, it turns out that his father and Singh (Art Malik), his father's manservant, have a deeper understanding.  When attempts to confine Lawrence fail he is sent back to the asylum, where he eventually learns some unwelcome truths - as does his keepers when it turns out that he is not delusional after all.

Despite its reputation - a Universal executive once said that this was one of the two worst movies ever made by the studio, the other being Babe: Pig in the City - The Wolfman is not a terrible film.  It is quite entertaining, although I wouldn't say del Toro's portrayal of Talbot is as engaging as Chaney's.  That's ironic, since Chaney was a limited actor, where del Toro has quite a bit of range.  Unfortunately, either because of the way he wanted to play Talbot or because of Joe Johnston's pedestrian directing, he has one expression throughout the majority of the film regardless of what is happening to him.  Emily Blunt isn't really given much to do with Gwen Conliffe and does not look like a woman from the late 19th century. 

The standouts are Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving.  Both give understated performances when they play roles that certainly could have devolved into scenery chewing, and both seem to think they are in a much better movie than they are.  Problem is, understated seems to be what Johnston was going for throughout, as the movie could have used more scenes that engaged the audience.  There is plenty of flesh-rending throughout, but in key scenes, like the one in the asylum, so much more could have been done.  I appreciate that the Wolfman terrorizes the streets of late 19th century London in a way that recalls An American Werewolf in London, but this does not have the same shock value.  The set design does try to recall the atmosphere of the original movie, but the movie did need a different director that could do something with the setting and the story rather than just point the camera. 

There is still a lot to like here.  The transformations were CGI, but don't look horrible.  The Gypsys' bear does, as it was recycled from another movie.  The makeup, on the other hand, was traditional prosthetics, and many of the other effects were practical.  The story does have some rough edges and a bit too much contrivance, and the whole asylum part seems like it is from a different (and better) movie, but it still flows well and tells a decent monster story.  It was also done before Universal decided to try the "Dark Universe" concept so, flaws and all, it is still a much better movie than The Mummy.  However, sticking to the original script a bit more and being willing to push the envelope would have made this stand out from the rest of the remake crowd at the time. 

The Wolfman (2010)
Time: 103 minutes
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Director: Joe Johnston



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