Movie Review: The Wolfman
By Matthew Huntley
February 18, 2010

This movie turned into the Thriller video so gradually I hardly even noticed.

I bet you when audiences first saw The Wolf Man in 1941, it was an exciting, fun and scary experience. It continued a streak of monster movies that began with Dracula and Frankenstein and would continue with The Phantom of the Opera and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Monster movies of that era told simple, straightforward stories but dazzled viewers with their special effects, makeup and production design.

Nowadays, when strong production values have become commonplace, simple stories just can't suffice like they used to, which is what somebody should have told the makers of The Wolfman (2010). This updated version has all the superficial ingredients of a classic monster movie but lacks the wit, intelligence and emotion to keep us fully involved in its undemanding story. Director Joe Johnston concentrates solely on the sensationalism of the tale, which can only go so far before we start to lose interest. He forgets we've seen special effects, gore and sets before, which fulfill their respective duties, but what makes a movie pay off is a thoughtful narrative.

The cast is certainly up to the challenge. Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, an estranged Englishman who travels home to help find his missing brother, Ben (Simon Merrells). Upon his arrival, Lawrence's father (Anthony Hopkins) informs him Ben's body was found mutilated in the woods near their estate. Lawrence vows to Ben's fiancée, Gwen (sympathetically played by Emily Blunt), he won't leave until he finds the man, or, as it is rumored by the locals, creature, responsible for his brother's death.

Among his brother's remains, Lawrence finds a medallion, which leads him to a gypsy camp and an encounter with a ferocious werewolf. Lawrence is attacked, bitten and becomes the titular wolfman. As legend has it, every full moon, he turns into a werewolf and brings about death and destruction.
That's more or less the plot, which wastes no time in establishing the basics just to get to the werewolf scenes. The screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self isn't too interested in the psychological effects of Lawrence's newfound condition but focuses more on the physical transformations and violence, like when the wolfman rips out people's livers.

Not that these moments aren't effective. I enjoyed the movie's violence and gore and appreciated the studio not watering them down to a tame PG-13 level. The movie doesn't hold back and fully deserves its R rating. There's also a moderately exciting chase scene across the London rooftops as the police inspector (Hugo Weaving) attempts to shoot the wolfman with silver bullets.

But aside from these few instances, the movie failed to provide a rush or engross me in the life of its tragic hero. Director Johnston is more content with supplying the basics of a monster movie and not fleshing out the psychological or emotional problems of the protagonist. At a brisk 102 minutes, the final result feels rushed and ultimately inconsequential.

I've yet to see the original Wolf Man, but I'm curious to know how different it is from the remake. The new one seems loyal - probably too loyal - to its predecessor, only it's bigger, louder and more sensational. What the filmmakers need to keep in mind is audiences have grown to want substance, however ridiculous the premise. Simple plot mechanics may have been enough in 1941, but now, when production values are as good as they are, story and characters should come first.