While it’s true that perseverance can yield great rewards, such is not the case for Universal’s “The Wolfman.” Originally the movie was to be directed by Mark Romanek, but the music-video maven left shortly after signing because of creative differences. Shortly thereafter, Joe Johnston edged out Brett Ratner, Frank Darabont, James Mangold and Martin Campbell. Then the movie got delayed. And delayed. And then delayed some more.
All of those delays would have been completely acceptable, if the finished product were engaging, action-packed or even borderline interesting, but “The Wolfman” is sadly none of the above. Instead, it’s just painfully, painfully average and un-noteworthy.
Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, the protagonist/werewolf who returns to his family’s estate in England to investigate the violent death of his brother. Upon his arrival he meets his father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt). Of course, the events that surround his brother’s savage death don’t make sense and it isn’t long before Lawrence is face-to-snarling maw with his brother’s killer.
Del Toro is exceptionally muted in his role as Lawrence, a character with more than his fair share of baggage. He stiffly mopes through most of his early scenes and wears the same look of hurt confusion throughout most of the movie. This would have been fine, had there been a larger or more bombastic performance for the gifted actor to play against, but the performances of Blunt and Hopkins are similarly beige.
Because of this, Blunt and Del Toro have all of the chemistry of a wet blanket as they awkwardly fumble through their scenes. And while Hopkins livens up by the movie’s conclusion, for the first hour he practically blends into the background.
But who cares about any of that when you’ve got a wolfman tearing ignorant townspeople and squatting gypsies limb from idiotic limb? After all, the title of the movie is “The Wolfman” not “The Fancypants British Lord With Daddy Issues.”
Johnston clearly thought that and as a result, the wolfman scenes are some of the movie’s most gratifying on a purely visceral level. Kudos to the director for keeping the movie’s hard-R rating, as the movie features plenty of maiming, disemboweling, and all around carnage.
If it was Johnston and effects wizard Rick Baker’s goal to recapture the sense of fear and exhilaration over the concept of a man changing into a savage beast, then they have succeeded, but only just barely. “The Wolfman” seems capable of only one scare tactic and while it works the first few times, it quickly wears thin.
But even that flaw harkens back to the overriding flaw of the movie: it’s generic. It’s not hyperstylized and instantly dated, but it’s not visually memorable, save for a scene in London. Its violence is brutal and overt, fitting of the titular character, but the story around the violence is uninspired.
A principal cast of gifted actors is wasted on hollow characters and a boring psychodrama. Even Danny Elfman’s soundtrack goes out of its way to be both ridiculously bombastic and instantly forgettable.
Catch this one in theaters only if you’re a die-hard fan of the franchise and even then keep your expectations low. Otherwise, wait for DVD or skip it altogether.