Rating: R (bloody horror violence and gore)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 12, 2010
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Stars: 3 out of 5
“The Wolfman” is set in 1890s England, where a dashing young man named Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) has gone missing. His father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) is a cruel man who doesn’t seem nearly as concerned as he should be about the disappearance. Sir John is so cruel that his other son, Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro), has left the moors where the family lives, determined to escape his father’s grasp. He seems happy, though haunted, as a touring stage actor, but he is persuaded to come home by Ben’s betrothed, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt).He reluctantly agrees to return and help search for Ben.
Unfortunately for the family, Lawrence is too late to help Ben. While he is traveling back to England, Ben’s badly mangled body turns up, turning the search party into a funeral procession. After the burial, an enraged Lawrence, filled with sorrow, decides he must find his brother’s killer. His initial investigation leads him to a gypsy camp, where he meets a host of intriguing characters, all of whom seem to be terrified of an alleged half-man, half-wolf creature that is the stuff of local legends. Lawrence scoffs at this notion until one night he is attacked and bitten by one such creature. Now, he is destined to turn into a wolf-man hybrid once a month when the moon is full.
Lawrence doesn’t know how to control himself when he becomes the wolf, which means that innocent lives are at stake. He loathes what he has become, especially because it thwarts his burgeoning relationship with the beautiful Gwen, who initially has no idea what is going on. Lawrence does some digging and finds out that only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf, and only true love can stop the curse from taking over every month. He decides he can’t live with being a werewolf, so he must figure out whether true love or a gun with silver ammo is going to stop his curse for good.
Director Joe Johnston has made many nostalgic films, including the big Marvel Studios hit “Captain America: The First Avenger” and the classic “The Rocketeer” years before that. If a studio executive is looking for a director who can successfully marry nostalgia with modern sensibilities and expectations, then they can’t go wrong with Johnston. His films tend to play to memories of yesteryear while still giving a nice dose of special effects. For “The Wolfman,” he hired famous creature creator Rick Baker to do the makeup for the wolf, taking great pains to show every step of the transformation from human to wolf. It’s a nice contrast to some of the other special effects, which were obviously generated by computer. The mixture of old school Hollywood makeup and CGI strikes a nice balance between the era when werewolf stories became popular and today’s heightened special effects.
Johnston’s fingerprints are all over the film, which is a wonder considering how many edits and rewrites the film went through. It’s no secret to in-the-know movie fans that “The Wolfman” was a very trying production that had numerous delays and an oft-changed release date. Universal, the studio that financed the film, took all of Johnston’s footage and pared it down to just 103 minutes, essentially gutting some of the story. Luckily for fans, they left some of the best stuff intact, and frequent Johnston collaborator Shelly Johnson’s cinematography keeps the film visually stunning. The backdrops and camera angles help make the film beautiful and fun to watch, even when the foreground is full of blood and gore.
Werewolves have been played by some talented actors in the past. “The Wolfman” is a remake of a 1941 film of the same name that starred Lon Chaney, Jr., in what would become the most famous role of his long and storied career. Chaney’s portrayal of the lycanthropic Talbot is nothing short of iconic, which means Del Toro had some pretty big shoes to fill going in. He does a good job updating the Talbot character to appeal to modern audiences while still staying true to the era in which the film takes place. He has some of the most exciting scenes in the film, not all of which are as a werewolf. He also has good chemistry with Blunt, although they have few scenes together. “The Wolfman” may have had many production woes, but Del Toro and Blunt help the audience see the true intent of director Johnston, making the film a good retelling of a classic supernatural tale that had been ignored for far too long.
Watch Benicio Del Toro in “The Wolfman” trailer