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The road to the silver screen hasn’t been an easy one for the latest remake of a classic Universal monster. Numerous script revisions, reshoots, issues with the musical score, editing woes, the abrupt departure of the original director-all combined to delay the film’s release for over two years. But “The Wolfman” never shows any sign of its’ troubled birth, as the filmmakers manage to deliver a slightly flawed but entertaining horror movie.
We’re introduced to Lawrence Talbot, a Shakespearean stage actor who returns to his family’s home in England; his brother’s fiancee has written him telling Talbot that he hasn’t been seen in weeks and implores him to return to the family homestead. But things have grown worse upon his arrival; his brother has been found brutally mauled by an unknown beast that prowls the area when the moon is full. His investigations into his brother’s death earn him a vicious bite by the beast, one that mysteriously heals so quickly for such a deep wound. Now Lawrence Talbot has a new role to play every full moon, one of a werewolf with an insatiable blood lust.
But things are far more complicated than just a mild case of lycanthrope. An investigator from Scotland Yard has arrived to probe the reports of the deadly monster, and his inquiries begin to point towards Talbot. Then there is also the question of the identity of the other werewolf, and its’ connection to the Talbot family history. For he soon learns that werewolves didn’t enter his life the night he was attacked, but have played a role in his life for quite a while, and it’s up to him to end the bloody cycle.
Benico Del Toro handles the role of Lawrence Talbot in an understated manner that suits the part fairly well. His is a character with private pain and traumas, and Del Toro gives him a wounded dignity along with his determination and courage. As Talbot’s father, Anthony Hopkins oozes sinister creepiness with just a touch of gong off the deep end without going over the top. Hugo Weaving is good in the supporting role of the Scotland Yard inspector; he doesn’t give his role much charisma or spark, but he infuses it with an admirable streak of dogged determination. The only weak performance is by Emily Blunt, as the fiancee of the deceased Talbot. Her performance is so subdued it hardly even seem there, and there’s little chemistry between her and Lawrence. It seems really far fetched that they fall in love, since there is nary a romantic spark between them.
We’re never shown the werewolves until over an hour into the film, and this would normally be a problem in a film entitled “The Wolfman”. But director Joe Johnston ratchet up the suspense and dramatic tension, using it to complement the darkly Gothic cinematography by Shelley Johnson. Johnston expertly stages the brutal werewolf attacks, allowing for plenty of dismemberments, disembowelment, and copious bloodletting. The transformation effects by f/x veteran Rick Baker, along with some CGI, are grotesquely wonderful and make it hard to take your eyes off the screen. Musical score by Danny Elfman nicely highlights whatever is happening onscreen.
Probably the biggest problem is the script by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, which ends up being kind of a mixed bag. There are some terrific scenarios of werewolf attacks, such as in London town, a gypsy camp, and even in a lecture hall of a lunatic asylum. There’s even a scene where two werewolves battle it out inside a burning house, but there’s also some problems that bog the film down. The identity of the beast that attacks Lawrence becomes fairly obvious halfway through the movie, likewise for the revelation of how his mother truly died. The romance between Lawrence and his brother’s fiancee feels forced and contrived; they barely are together long enough to get acquainted, much less fall in love. The love story feels like it was forced in later in production, and doesn’t really mesh with the film.
“The Wolfman” is an excellent film that suffers from some story problems. It’s the perfect antidote to anyone sick of sappy films on Valentine’s Day weekend. Flaws and all, it’s still a suspenseful and gory good time.
Joe Johnston (director) / Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Merrells … Ben Talbot
Emily Blunt … Gwen Conliffe
Benicio Del Toro … Lawrence Talbot
Cristina Contes … Solana Talbot
Anthony Hopkins … Sir John Talbot
Hugo Weaving … Abberline