I managed, over the past few months, to get myself pretty excited for The Wolfman. I liked the trailers and the cast and the posters, and I'm generally starved for intense, atmospheric movies. When the bad reviews started pouring in, I figured I'd be the guy who could see its merits, accept its flaws, and give it a positive review. And here I am, able to see those merits shining through, but a good review is more than I can muster.
The Wolfman is ostensibly a remake of the 1941 Universal Pictures monster movie of (almost) the same title. Aside from the general werewolf premise, the plots of the two movies only share a few key reference points. Joe Johnston's The Wolfman begins with Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returning to his family's estate in Great Britain upon the death of his brother. After reuniting with his father (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence agrees to investigate his brother's death at the request of his brother's fiancee, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). He starts his inquiry at a traveling gypsy caravan, and while he's there, a marauding beast attacks. Lawrence is bitten, and though he survives, he discovers that he has incurred a grim fate.
The rest of the film follows Lawrence as he transforms, ravages, is condemned, escapes, and faces the demons of a haunting past that contributed to his tragedy. I would describe the plot in more detail, but the synopsis would make it sound more complicated than it actually is. This is to the movie's credit; it builds a fairly in-depth web of relationships between its core characters, and it takes a number of sharp turns and twists before it settles into its predictable final scenes.
The film succeeds in some other ways, too. Johnston handles the atmosphere well, rendering one of the most inky, intense Gothic worlds I've seen in a while. In this respect, films like Hellboy could take a lesson from The Wolfman, which uses light and shadow to accentuate ornate sets and landscapes, baroque arrangements that also manage to seem stark and ominous. Of all the film's departures from the original, its atmosphere and tone are probably the best creative decision. Furthermore, the actors are well-chosen. Anthony Hopkins channels Hannibal Lecter, providing a uniquely sinister portrait of fatherhood. Del Toro acts well, too, though he doesn't play quite the timid second-son character that his backstory would suggest. The calculated Gothic-noir demeanor of Hugo Weaving fits the milieu, as well.