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The Wolfman (2010)

The Wolfman (2010)

Directed by: Joe Johnston

The cast includes:

Halloween is fast approaching and we at dustforprints have decided it is the year of all things ‘wolfy’. Vampires clutter up the airwaves wherever you look but if you can make a great werewolf movie then you will definitely stand out from the crowd. George Wagnner’s 1941 classic, “The Wolf man”, starring Lon Chaney Jnr. has been long admired by fans and critics alike. Hence, Joe Johnston’s 2010 remake starring Benicio del Toro had some pretty big shoes to fill. If indeed werewolves wear shoes…

So what’s the film about?

The story opens with the death of Ben Talbot in the Blackmoor Woods, England (1891). He has been savagely mauled to death by an unknown creature. Lawrence Talbot, Ben’s brother, has been cultivating a career on the stage in America when he is contacted by Gwen Conliffe, Ben’s fiancée, who asks him to return to England to find out what happened to Ben.

So the prodigal son consequently returns to his father’s estate to find the old man more eccentric than ever. As Lawrence reintegrates into his old life and investigates his brother’s death, we learn more about Lawrence’s incarceration in a mental asylum following his mother’s death. Lawrence also starts to get closer to Gwen, and the deadly (and hairy) secret that endangers all the villagers every full moon. When the villagers start dying at the hands of a beast with supernatural strength, Inspector Aberline of Scotland Yard comes to investigate and it is Lawrence who becomes his number one suspect.

Getting a credible actor like Benicio del Toro attached to the movie seems a massive coup for Universal Pictures. The reason? Del Toro is reputedly a massive fan of the original “Wolfman” movie from 1941 and is a collector of memorabilia in the same vein. An added bonus is that, quite frankly, he kind of looks the part.  As the chief makeup artist, Rick Baker, has attested:

Going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolf Man isn’t a really extreme difference. Like when I did An American Werewolf in London, we went from this naked man to a four-legged hound from hell, and we had a lot of room to go from the transformation and do a lot of really extreme things. Here we have Benicio del Toro, who’s practically the Wolf Man already, to Benicio del Toro with more hair and bigger teeth.” (Source: Wikipedia)

What a shame, therefore, that the movie doesn’t actually work with him in the central role. Looking vaguely wolf-like obviously doesn’t quite cut the mustard on its own. Instead of delivering a powerhouse dramatic performance, del Toro goes way too understated. In effect, he sleepwalks through the movie, mumbling his lines at every opportunity. He doesn’t seem to realise the movie depends on him for some dynamism or charisma and instead wears the weight of the movie like a summer jacket. i.e. very lightly.

Moreover, he lacks chemistry with any of the other characters, especially with Gwen, the love interest played by Emily Blunt. But it should be noted that this as much to do with the lacklustre characterisation and plotting which ruins any hope of a meaningful love story. Of the other characters, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving have very little do other than play their archetypal roles as written: she the simpering love interest; he the dogged detective. However, Art Malik’s inclusion as Hopkin’s ‘Man Friday’ seems utterly pointless. Especially, when you consider that the great Max von Sydow’s contribution, along with 17 minutes, lie on the cutting room floor.

The only character with any depth, and that seems to realise the kind of film he is in, is Anthony Hopkins as Sir John Talbot. As the mad, bad Dad, good ol’ Tony has an absolute ball ‘hamming’ it up Hammer horror-style. The movie does not make nearly as much use of his performance as it should. We are even given an intriguing back story for him and some wonderful lines of dialogue but it is all mouth-wateringly too little because, regrettably, daddy Talbot isn’t the focus of this movie.

Instead, all we get is the anaemic Lawrence angle and a cliché of the werewolf legend: hackneyed gypsies talking curses in hushed tones, and two-dimensional mobs (and detectives) chasing an under-developed, uninspiring hero. If del Toro really wanted to deliver an epic “werewolf” movie for the 21st century to pay proper tribute to the countless other productions then he sure as hell doesn’t show it here.

A lot of the blame must go to the unoriginal script and the lacklustre direction. The omens weren’t great. Several directors were approached , notably Mark Romanek who left the project after creative differences. Eventually Joe Johnston was appointed 3 months before shooting was due to begin. Unfortunately, Johnston’s directing track record does not make for happy reading: “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (1989); “The Rocketeer” (1991); ”Jumanji” (1995); “Jurassic Park 3” (2001); “Hidalgo” (2004) and “Captain America” (2011). Apart from, the admittedly fun, “Jumanji” there is not one movie I would rate from that back catalogue. They’re all passable at best. Little wonder then that most critics have rated “The Wolfman” in the same way.

What is worse is that the movie cost a reputed $150 million. If you’re going to keep to the basic 1941 plot then it has to be in the technical aspects that the 21st century film should seek to excel. But the cost doesn’t show onscreen which is the biggest sin. The CGI look of 1891 London looks painfully flat and unrealistic. “The Wolfman” really then is a bona fide flop. The more so given that it ended up only making $140 million. Even “John Carter” (2012) made its money back and $30 million more besides.

Indeed, another gothic tale, “The Raven” (2012), cost a fraction of this astronomical fee at only $26 million (approx.) and it is just as good in terms of creating an atmospheric setting and light years ahead in terms of creating dramatic tension and characterisation. Someone on “The Wolfman” production should have said that the characters were flat and unsympathetic and there was no narrative drive or tension. Clearly they didn’t however.

But not everything comes down to money. And I should end on a positive note. The one thing Joe Johnston did right in spending his money on was Rick Baker and the makeup for the werewolf. The transformations from man to monster are utterly fantastic, building on all the good work of “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) which Baker also worked on. The beast itself is genuinely really frightening and is worth the admission ticket (or rental fee) just to see how Hollywood has improved on the look of the werewolf. I would, hand on heart, urge you to see this film if only for that wonderful, wonderful beast. It’s up to you whether you could stick the banal story wrapped round him. In fact, as ‘Wolfy’ bounded menacingly through the darkened Blackmoor woods, I couldn’t help hoping he would bound out of the movie and into a much better one. I wouldn’t blame him.

IN SHORT: Mediocre & clichéd werewolf yarn enlivened by the beast.

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5 (I’m giving a full 1 star for the beast itself here)

Passable at best.

What did you think? Did you like it? Rate it below here:

Read about the film on IMDB

Read about the film on Wikipedia

Read a review on the Film4 website

Read about the film on Rottentomatoes.com

Read a review on Cinemablend.com

Watch the trailer for “The Wolfman” (2010) here:

Alternatively, you could watch the whole of “The Wolf man” (1941) below this charming fellow:


About dustforprints

Part bibliophile, part cinephile, part dream weaver. Hmmn... in short, I like books and movies and I write words about both from time to time.

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