Review: The Wolfman
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Starring: Benicio del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
First, I’ll address the elephant in the room (well, perhaps it’s only hanging around my room) and declare Benicio del Toro an aesthetically accurate choice to play the eponymous character in Joe Johnston’s loose re-imagining of George Waggner’s 1941 film The Wolf Man. Why is this? Because del Toro is a funny looking guy. Watching him transform from Benicio to el lupo is as humorous as it is creepy. And its within these parameters – of lightheartedness and discomfort – that the film would best be framed.
Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, the prodigal son of an aristocratic Victorian-era family, who has carved out a successful acting career in America. Talbot has returned to the family’s estate in Blackmoor to investigate the death of his brother, who was found torn to shreds amid the foggy din of the Blackmoor forest. He is reunited with his father, Sir John, played by Anthony Hopkins in the kind of role he farts out in his sleep.
Of course, gypsies are the ethnic group of choice for garnering further information on weird happenings, so soon enough Talbot – who’s snarly enough as a normal human guy – finds himself at a gypsy camp, asking questions in that brooding way of his, and generally finding stuff out. Enter the werewolf and some pretty sweet slayings. Talbot, evidently insane, chases after the werewolf as it disappears into the mist. It is here that cinema again reminds us that a persistent mist hung over England for the entire second half of the 19th century.
Now for some good news and bad news. The good news is that Talbot didn’t meet the same fate as his bro. The bad news is that he still had a little dance with the werewolf, and ended up with a pretty decent bite mark on his neck. This means – for those unfamiliar with werewolf lore – that he’s fucked.
Talbot soon realises what’s gonna happen to him come the next full moon. As it happens, 29 days is also the perfect amount of time to develop a deep mutual attraction with your dead brother’s fiancée. Classy, Talbot. Emily Blunt is nothing less than charming as the Victorian maiden (indeed, how can someone called Emily Blunt be anything but?), and it is she who injects the biggest does of human warmth into the narrative. Del Toro, on the other hand, plays Talbot with a scowl — fitting, I suppose, for someone going through a pretty heavy life change, though not entirely endearing. He is counterbalanced by Hugo Weaving’s Scotland Yard Inspector Aberline, who successfully channels Agent Smith and Lord Elrond and injects the result with some subtle camp.
While the scenes that don’t involve a werewolf fall slightly flat, Johnston shows he knows how to do suspense, even if his shock tactics border on cliché. It’s still a lot of fun, however, particularly when the beast is unleashed. This thing, which would dispatch a teenage vampire in under three seconds, comes with a series of personalities based on those of a kitchen blender, including shred, blend, puree, chop, cream, grate and liquefy. Thankfully, Johnston lets two of these guys meet during the film’s climax, and the result successfully answers the question, “Who’d win in a fight between a werewolf and a werewolf?”
I’d like to think that the oh-so-serious tone of the film, underpinned by an occasionally intrusive score and drenched in gothic splendour, is entirely knowing, because if Johnston has attempted here to illuminate the essence of the human condition, he’s howling up the wrong lamp post. This is, simply, a schlocky, fun and deliciously gory horror romp.
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