The Wolfman - Film Review

Posted on 10. Feb, 2010 by Administrator in Film/TV

by Todd Gilchrist

In the parlance of 19th Century England, the time and place in which the film is set, “The Wolfman” is a little bit like a mouthful of wooden teeth: Technically it gets the job done, but to even the untrained eye, it’s not a convincing substitute for something real. In an effort to salvage three years of production disputes, delays, bad buzz, and badmouthing from some of its makers, Universal apparently elected to cobble together success out of a pastiche of previous hits, including King Kong, Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, An American Werewolf in London, and only incidentally its iconic 1941 namesake The Wolf Man, in the process eliminating anything resembling coherent storytelling, originality, or even basic technical competency. In other words, congratulations Universal – you made Van Helsing 2.

Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro in "Wolfman"

Benicio del Toro, quite possibly the least likely person ever to go by the name “Larry,” plays Lawrence Talbot, an actor who succumbs to lycanthropy after being bitten by a mysterious creature. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Lawrence’s father John, and the actor’s disinterest is palpable in every scene in which he appears; apparently the reason you don’t often see his hands on screen is because they’re always just off-camera, parceling out each penny in his no-doubt considerable paycheck. Emily Blunt quivers and heaves to admirable but unnecessary effect as Lawrence’s improbable, poorly written love interest Gwen. And Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Abberline, a slightly less-animated iteration of The Matrix’s indefatigably dry Agent Smith whom we’re not sure whether is the piece’s hero or villain.

Emily Blunt in "Wolfman"

Then again, there’s virtually nothing in the film that’s defined, explained or otherwise justified. If the film’s cold-open murder of a hapless traveler isn’t a vote of no confidence for the subtleties, much less the substance of The Wolfman’s story, then the rest of the film’s crass, annoying and unending jump scares, not to mention its desperate, ineffective shots of special effects that were obviously done and redone several times, are certainly a sign that money rather than creativity or even basic competence were used to solve the production’s myriad problems.

It’s as if Johnston and Co. simply kept throwing trash bags of cash at the screen and then realized that the only way to make all of that mediocre effort worthwhile was to show it in the longest, clearest, least suspenseful or interesting way possible. With the exception of a dog that basically exists to offer a few extra fake shocks during tense moments, all of the rest of the animals, including a bear and a deer, are created digitally, which makes the odd and ineffective fusing of computer generated images and practical effects for the Wolfman look freaking ridiculous.

Finally – which I suspect is the word also used on set in reference to this part of the film – there’s the script. Is it even remotely possible that Universal didn’t know that screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self were cribbing shamelessly from the studio’s past films? The Wolfman seems like nothing so much as Hulk, which was a raging monster lurking within a sensitive, helpless soul – who, coincidentally also found himself running along rooftops, fleeing from dogged pursuers, and in Ang Lee’s interpretation, suffering from some pretty devastating daddy issues. There’s even a square-off against another monster where the two gallop toward each other, exploding in violent contact. Then there’s the King Kong similarities, which include his destruction of a passing trolley, and of course his persecution as a misunderstood monster.

The Wolf in "Wolfman"

That is, except for the fact that he is a monster! With one exception, at almost no time in the film is there ever a sign that Lawrence Talbot is a sentient, motivated creature as the wolfman; he kills indiscriminantly, for no discernible purpose other than wanton destruction (which naturally results in a buffet of bloody prosthetics), and once everyone knows that he’s a monster, he becomes the antagonist and their fears are completely legitimate. In which case, who or what are we rooting for? More gory deaths of people we don’t know? The salvation of a sad-sack hero who has no charm or personality? Another homage/tribute to one of the earlier, better films whose creative (but mostly commercial) success inspired The Wolfman?

Rest assured that there are plenty of references and visual cues for werewolf fans, as well as a preponderance of fluids and flying, dismembered body parts. But sometimes all of those delays, changes, reshoots and rumored problems really do mean that a movie is really, really bad, and The Wolfman is a career-ruiner, or it would be if everyone involved hadn’t already found work in the two years since it was originally shot. (That Joe Johnston is set to direct a Captain America movie augurs terrible things for the last mainstream comic adaptation that actually matters.) Ultimately, there isn’t a single thing that works in the film – not the slapdash, half-practical special effects, not the joyless, airless, immobile acting, not even the usually reliable Danny Elfman’s score, which evokes Wojiech Kilar’s music for Coppola’s Dracula and about a hundred other themes without achieving any identity of its own.

The Wolfman clearly devoted most of its production time coming up with ways to tear bodies limb-from-limb and colorfully throw the pieces around on set. It’s a real shame no one ever tried to make a brain among all of those disparate body parts, because even fake gray matter could have made a better movie than this one, since it clearly used none at all.

Rating: star The Wolfman   Film Reviewblankstar The Wolfman   Film Reviewblankstar The Wolfman   Film Reviewblankstar The Wolfman   Film Reviewblankstar The Wolfman   Film Review  1 Star out of 5

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4 Responses to “The Wolfman - Film Review”

  1. Administrator

    10. Feb, 2010

    Best Werewolf Movies of All Time:

    10. Silver Bullet
    9. The Company of Wolves
    8. Wolf
    7. The Curse of the Werewolf
    6. Wolfen
    5. Ginger Snaps
    4. Dog Soldiers
    3. The Howling
    2. The Wolf Man (1941)
    1. An American Werewolf in London

    Reply to this comment
    • Corby

      11. Feb, 2010

      I’d have rated The Company of Wolves higher and Wolfen lower, but otherwise agree with your selections.

      I’d like to think there’s a better choice for the 10 slot to bump Silver Bullet off the list, but sadly, I can’t think of one.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Jason Dean

    11. Feb, 2010

    I liked Dances With Wolves.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Mark M.

    12. Feb, 2010

    Sounds like I should do laundry instead of see this movie.
    I was so looking forward to this one. Oh well~
    Todd, You lost me at parlance cause I had to stop and look it up! The flow went on however and I did get your point about what a piece of crap this movie is…
    I’m off to do laundry~

    Reply to this comment

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