In recent years we’ve been treated to remakes of nearly all the classic monsters — Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy–and now it’s the Wolfman’s turn. Unfortunately, it’s a mixed bag–a film that’s not quite sure what it wants to be.
The film starts well. It’s dark, and gothic, and atmospheric—and I really like the decision not to place the film in the present, but rather keep it in the late 1800s.
Lawrence Talbot receives a letter from his sister-in-law that his brother is missing and feared dead. Here’s where the film starts to lose some luster, as Lawrence is played by a terribly cast Benicio Del Toro. He’s a Shakespearean actor, but you’d never know it from the way he plays the character with one emotion.
He comes home to his family’s dark estate, overseen by his just-as-dark father, played by the ever-reliable Anthony Hopkins. Just as Talbot returns they find his brother’s mangled body, and the town is whipped into a frenzy. Some blame the kept bear of the traveling gypsies for this and other grisly murders. And what film would be complete without a caricatured priest who declares this is nothing more than God’s wrath for unnamed sins?
In fact, one of the film’s oddities is how often “religious talk” comes up—but always in a surface and muddled way. The priest talks about God forsaking people (wha?), and the film opens with a voiceover telling us that even those who say their prayers can become wolfmen. The gypsies talk of devils and saints. And a character can’t bring herself to believe it’s possible for someone to become a wolf, because if that’s true, then maybe “magic is real, and God is real.” But none of this interesting talk ever goes anywhere. It’s as though they felt it ought to be in the film, but they can’t be bothered to actually explore what anyone means by this.
The visit to the gypsy camp is one of the best-done in the whole film. It’s exciting and startling and well-edited. My hopes are up! But they’re soon dashed by a film that tries to be a traditional, throwback monster movie and a bloody gore-fest at the same time. Bodies are disemboweled, heads are lopped off, and the Wolfman treats other heads like bowling balls. It’s no spoiler that young Talbot is bitten by the area werewolf, and during the next full moon he rampages through the town.
He spends the rest of the film feeling sorry for himself and wondering what his ultimate fate will be. The final showdown finds Talbot facing another werewolf, and they look so much alike that one of them actually tears his shirt off, just so we can tell them apart. Mmmmhmmm…
In the end, the filmmakers have inserted an entirely average storyline into a beautifully shot film. The potential kept piling up, but no one showed up to explore any of it. A shame.
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