It's fitting that the studio (Universal) that first brought us the classic movie monsters of Frankenstein (or Frankenstein's monster if you want to get technical), Dracula, The Mummy and, of course, The Wolfman should bring us the latter again in this re-telling of the tale of how a man finds his inner beast (so to speak).
Joe Johnston, of Jumanji and Jurassic Park III fame (and who will direct the upcoming Captain America movie), is behind the camera for The Wolfman and filling the screen is a talented bunch of actors including Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt. The time period is well captured — the clothes, the buildings, the manner of speaking. All the ingredients are there, it would seem.
However, there's something strangely bland and uninteresting about this particular take on the classic character, something which is only intermittently livened up by an odd chase/action sequence here and an intense exchanging of dialogue there (the latter almost always involving Hopkins). But for every scene that's exciting or interesting or attention-grabbing, there are a few more that are the exact opposite and unfortunately they are too frequent and prolific just to ignore.
For anyone familiar with horror movies, the story of The Wolfman shouldn't be unfamiliar but just in case you need reminding, or want to know how much the story's been changed for this particular version, the plot is as follows: Upon his return from America after the death of his younger brother, Lawrence Talbot seeks to investigate how his brother was mysteriously and brutally murdered by an unknown attacker. During his hunt he gets bitten by what appears to be a werewolf and before long finds out his healed wound isn't just a weird coincidence. Now he has to deal with being a werewolf, or rather The Wolfman, and escaping capture and death from the locals who are baying for blood.
It's a basic story that provides an almost blank slate for some full-on action scenes and interesting exploration of the nature of man and beast. However with the amount of behind-the-scenes trouble this film has had (actually "trouble" is an understatement) it's no surprise to find the movie isn't what it could have been if production had gone smoothly. New editors being brought in; the initial director quitting; a new director being brought on as a "creative consultant" during re-shoots; and even the actual design of The Wolfman himself being changed partway into production — needless to say the result has an almost overwhelming feeling of too many cooks in the kitchen.
The performances from the undoubtedly talented cast are mixed: Hopkins is easily the best thing in the movie, bringing an intensity and peculiarity to a role that was hard to pull off. Weaving and Blunt do well with what they have although both roles are extremely limited (particularly Blunt's). But it's with the leading man himself, Del Toro, that I find myself most disappointed. He's not terrible but, mimicking the rest of the movie, his performance feels rather bland and subdued. Perhaps that was on purpose, to heavily contrast the wild nature of what he becomes when the moon is full, but he just comes off as an uninteresting lead here (and that's not usually the case with the Puerto Rican-born actor).
There are some exciting and thrilling action sequences to be found, mainly when The Wolfman comes out to play and is either killing everyone in sight or running from shooting guns across the rooftops of late 19th century London. But even in those sequences lies one of the film's other big problems — the amount of gore is unnecessarily high. I understand there has to be a certain amount of that in a movie where a man who turns into a wolf is attacking people, often ripping them to shreds or even decapitating them. But the film goes too far and we see guts lying all over the ground, blood squirting all over the place, and one too many shots of mangled bodies post-Wolfman attack. Perhaps horror junkies out there will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of blood and guts that are on display but for everyone else it's a little too much.
With this being a version of The Wolfman (although still in a period setting) made contemporary for a modern audience, it was almost inevitable CGI would come into play instead of it all being good old makeup and prosthetics. The latter is still there, created by the legendary Rick Baker (who was responsible for the classic, all time best werewolf transformation scene found in An American Werewolf in London), but CGI is utilized quite a lot and it stands out like a sore thumb because they are very noticeably special effects (meaning they don't seamlessly blend in as they should).
Overall The Wolfman is what I would describe as the first major cinematic disappointment of 2010. There are a few exciting scenes that almost make the movie worth going to see but that, some intense dialogue-driven scenes, and even a talented cast can't save this from being a rather uninteresting and boring film that feels choppy and fragmented. It meanders far too often (perhaps it's the simple story that causes that) and when it does ramp up the excitement, the level of gore is far too high. See it in cinemas if you're a horror/movie monster buff but other than that either skip it entirely or just wait for the DVD.