Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins
Studio/Run Time: Universal Pictures, 103 min.
Change is good, but not this time
Twice, The Wolfman could have turned out to be something more than just an exercise in Victorian mood punctuated by scenes of dismemberment.
Early in the film, the dour and eccentric Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) offers up a morsel of advice to his recently arrived “prodigal son” Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro), which might have set the theme for the rest of the film: “The past is a wilderness of horrors.” It seems a shame that the most we get out of this simile is a rampaging wolfman who happens to use the wilderness to set the stage for a number of explicit deaths. As a Shakespearean actor, (in a flashback we see him recite Hamlet’s “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy) a bit more introspection would have been expected.
Just as Lawrence begins to discover that there is more to his brother’s disappearance, thanks to the mumbling wisdom of Gypsies, he is bitten and begins a succession of very effective CG transformations. Identifying where the nature of man ends and beast begins is another idea that the film could have easily employed to a philosophical bent, but earns little more than a momentary reflection while Lawrence learns to deal with his newfound condition and the mysteries that unfold concerning his father’s past. A subtle love interest develops between Lawrence and his dead brother’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt) that’s instrumental in the film’s obvious climax. And finally, the authorities provide an excuse for Lawrence to constantly be on the go, which amounts to little more than a steady supply of bodies to be mangled.
Danny Elfman’s score compliments the narrative on screen but refuses to add an extra dimension. None of the actors really challenge their abilities here, but considering the well-worn approach this movie takes, it isn’t all that surprising. The Wolfman is a modest film that does little to pull the Monster Movie genre out of its apathetic tendency towards shock, and leans heavily on dark atmospherics as a flimsy replacement for worthwhile content.