Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt
Watch The Wolfman online in the UK: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Benicio Del Toro. Is. Wolfman. It’s a great piece of casting – they don’t come much wolfier than old Benicio. But even with the hairiest of men baring his teeth at the camera, Joe Johnston’s remake of the classic horror story never quite works. It’s perhaps no surprise after its famously 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 the pork. 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, while wearing a hat. All the pieces are in place for some good, old-fashioned fun, but they never quite fit 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 part 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. All this wouldn’t be a problem if The Wolfman 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 – and crucially – 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 Wolfman. Del Toro as a human is equally unbelievable. 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.
The result is, sadly, less a thick slice of ham and more a lump of mutton that’s been butchered.
The Wolfman is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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