While Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite movies, the Universal Monster with the most potential has always been the Wolf Man. He’s the only creature that not only has the ability to be loved by the audience, but can also flip a switch and unload a hefty share of bloodshed. I hate to say this, but my thoughts are that if Universal Pictures dropped the ball on The Wolfman, how can they ever tackle the tales behind Dracula, the Invisible Man, Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon or the Mummy ever again? As a fan of classic black and white horror cinema, my personal belief is that there is a lot riding on Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman, which is why it pains me to tell all of you that this hairy redo is a Franken-movie after all.
Benicio Del Toro pays Lawrence Talbot, a man who returns home when his brother is brutally murdered. He vows to stay until he uncovers the truth behind his grizzly death. Emily Blunt plays Gwen Conliffe, now a widow, who falls in love with Lawrence and is determined to help him. Anthony Hopkins stars as Sir John Talbot, Lawrence’s father who carries some dark family secrets. While investigating the death of his brother, a gypsy camp is attacked by a werewolf who bites Lawrence in the neck. The head gypsy woman refuses to “kill a man” even though they all know what he will become. The terrifying part of the story is that there’s apparently a full moon every night…
The timeline of The Wolfman is a mess with everything seemingly unfolding moment to moment. Has it been a day? A month? A year? I can only assume that this whole story takes place over the course of a few years because there are plenty of full moons, and anyone who went to school knows that you’ll catch a full moon only once a month (maybe they’ll blame global warming?).
Furthermore, I had a real problem with the scope of the film. It was incredibly difficult to decipher where everything was in relation to one another. It was maddening wondering where the Talbot mansion was in comparison to the city or the woods.
That’s all dribble compared to the crux of the issues in The Wolfman. I’m not sure how much of the character development was lost in the re-re-re-re-cutting of the film – or massive reshoots for that matter – but there were no real “connections” between the stars or their characters. In fact, Lawrence’s acceptance of becoming the Wolf Man is infuriating. He is bitten, a gypsy cryptically tells him what he’s become, and then he just accepts it. There’s no struggle within himself to deny what he’s become. Remember that scene in Teen Wolf when Michael J. Fox stares into a mirror as he’s transforming and freaks out? Or how about in An American Werewolf in London where he’s in obvious pain for what feels like an eternity? In fact, his father confronts him and basically says, “you’re fucked” with Lawrence immediately (in what feels like an instant) transforming in to the beast. Adding fury to the fire, the first official transformation is less than lackluster as there’s a CG overload with feet stretching, nails growing and giant humps appearing in his back. The Wolf Man’s initial transformation is supposed to be as epic as Freddy getting his glove or Jason getting his mask, and yet, it’s like they took Rick Baker’s An American Werewolf in London transformation and found a way to make it lame.
Speaking of Rick Baker, he returns to this subgenre to a lot of early criticism. The images online are quite unflattering. But alas, when the Wolf Man is in action on screen, Baker’s SFX work is absolutely astounding (sans the beast’s teeth). The look absolutely compliments the classic 1941 version of The Wolf Man and brings a slightly fresh take on it. You can really see the human side within the monster. Even the gore FX work was awesome and there are plenty of uber violent sequences where the Wolf Man just rips people to shreds.
Besides hiring Rick Baker, John Johnston made a few other good decisions such as having the Wolf Man run on twos and fours (it was done incredibly well) and hiring cinematographer Shelly Johnson (while not all that accomplished in the film world, does a remarkable job). The forest sequences are beautifully lit and really evoke the tone of what The Wolfman should be.
It’s unfortunate that most of Johnston’s camerawork is unflattering, but I will say the man knows how to shoot an action sequence (probably why he got Jurassic Park III). If anything, the best parts of The Wolfman are when the beast is running around slicing and dicing the sh*t out of everyone.
What’s completely unfortunate is that the fun runs out of steam around the 60-minute mark and plunges into the depths of illogical hell. Going back to the characters and their relationships, Lawrence and Gwen fall in love in what feels like an hour, leading to an incredibly anticlimactic (and overly melodramatic) finale that left half the audience laughing out loud. Then there’s the issue of Lawrence “blacking out”. He obviously doesn’t remember ANYTHING that happens when he’s the beast. In an early finale (SPOILER START) a transformed Lawrence battles one on one with a furry Sir John. It’s papa bear vs. baby bear – and this time it’s personal. The movie breaks its own rules as it establishes that they black out turning transformation, yet, Lawrence and his paps are completely cognitive about their hatred for one another in the final battle. So what is it, do they know what’s going or not? (END SPOILER).
While The Wolfman has some really proud moments, ultimately it feels like a Franken-film. It’s fractured mostly at the core with horrid character development and illogical situations. In short, when the Wolf Man wasn’t ripping off people’s heads — it was unbearably boring.