Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt
Wolfman. Benicio Del Toro. It's a great piece of casting - they don't come much wolfier than old Benicio. But even with the most hairiest of men baring his teeth at the camera, Joe Johnston's remake of the classic horror story never quite works. It's no surprise after the years of troubled production, but The Wolfman is patchy stuff. For all its gothic leanings and fondness for its furry material, this beast reeks mostly of ham. Thick, hammy slices of ham.
Now that wouldn't normally be a problem; old-school horrors of a certain period lived off ham. But here, the clunky dialogue and over-acting doesn't sit with the modern tinge of this retro-styled offering. Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) is a successful Shakespearean actor who returns home to London when his brother is found massacred to bloody pieces. As rumours of a cursed monster spread, his father, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins), spends his time fending off villagers with pitchforks, in between spouting dark and mysterious lines of exposition. Completing the family bunch? Why, it's Gwen (Blunt), Lawrence's sister-in-law, who happens to be gorgeous. Needless to say, Talbot has trouble keeping his paws off.
Inevitably, of course, Lawrence gets bitten by the werewolf and takes on the burden of lupine hell himself. Luckily, Detective Abberline (Weaving) is on hand to shoot things whilst wearing a hat. All the pieces are in place for some good old-fashioned fun, but they never quite sit together. Weaving's British policeman is wonderfully two-dimensional and Blunt nails her gothic heroine role and spends most of her time quivering. Even Anthony Hopkins somehow makes his dreadful role watchable.
The weakness is the script - re-written and re-drafted, it tries to mesh period character dilemmas with a modern gore-fest. It mostly fails. The gore is fairly decent, with decapitation and throat-slashing galore. But the plot? That's obvious from the trailer, the terrible twist building up to a terrible showdown that echoes Van Helsing of all things. That wouldn't be a problem if this had a sense of its own silliness. But it doesn't. Playing it straight down the line, the moody visuals and smoke-machine atmosphere look incredible but everything else fails, especially the all-important transformation scene.
Opting for low-tech prosthetics and make-up, Benicio in monster mode looks rather laughable - standing upright on his two hind legs, he's closer to Teen Wolf than The Wolfman. Getting his claws on in CGI fashion, the actual transformation looks OK but, crucially, it doesn't match his final costumed appearance; compare it American Werewolf in London and it lacks serious snout. Dog Soldiers can pull off biped beasts but Joe Johnston's high budget Universal blockbuster? It's a bit of a stretch. Del Toro as a human is even less believable. Staggering around, confused and bleary, his eyes half-closed in contemplation of his fate, Lawrence Talbot should be a tragic and handsome hero figure. Here, he looks more like the drunk cousin of Antonio Banderas. Ooo, scary.
Shoddy and stilted, The Wolfman's uneven texture has lots of fur and little bite. Less a thick slice of ham and more a lump of mutton that's been butchered to bits.