It seems to me that there has been talking of updating most of Universal’s slew of classic horror monsters since Van Helsing (2004) brought them to light once more. Now, 6 years later, one of those classic movie monsters has finally gotten an update, and The Wolfman has arrived. But, was director Joe Johnston, the man behind films like Jumanji (1995) and Jurassic Park III (2001), the right man for the task, or is The Wolfman a glimpse into the pitfalls that await one of the most anticipated superhero pictures to date, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)?
Benicio Del Toro, who has already shown a bit of his feral side in The Hunted (2003) does a decent, if surprisingly mundane, job in The Wolfman. Known as much for his harsh accent as his varied roles, Del Toro presents the picture of the perfect 19th century gentleman in this film – minus any accent whatsoever. While viewers expect him to (quite literally) sink his teeth into the iconic role, he instead plays the character just as his character plays Hamlet early on – by-the-numbers, and without soul.
The rest of the cast is a bit more animated, at least. Anthony Hopkins plays the stoic hard-to-reach father, but does manage to break somewhat out of that cold exterior to deliver something a bit more fun than what viewers may expect from him. Hugo Weaving, boasting an impressive mutton chops/mustache combo, is decent enough as his character, but again, comes off as a bit stodgy and uninspired.
Unfortunately, most of the dreariness in the acting comes from director Joe Johnston himself, who seems to have wanted to more pay homage to the original than create something fresh in this remake. Rather than re-inventing the legend – or even trying to bring it into modern times, he keeps the storyline in 19th century England. While set pieces can be entertaining at times (Braveheart, for example), this throwback to olden times kills any chance of a new take on the beast that viewers may have been expecting.
Instead, viewers are subjected to long, drawn-out sequences that are supposed to build tension. Unfortunately, since the viewer has already guessed the outcome of these sequences, they become more time-wasters than tension builders. As the viewer starts to nod off, the film changes the location, and suddenly things get more interesting.
While the rest of the film seems to be stuck in paying homage to the original version, the special effects have been updated into the current decade. Now, Wolfy is disturbingly real from the first ripple of moving skin to the full-fledged hairy monster with sharp teeth and sharper claws. Toss in some rather gory killings, and Wolfy has suddenly become much more graphic.
The performances in The Wolfman are decent, but not quite the impressive offerings viewers have previously seen from Del Toro, Hopkins or Weaving. They keep the viewer watching, but without the passion in their performances this time, the viewer is somewhat detached, and never really gets into the film. The special effects help update the film and really flesh out of the beast within, but the dated setting and overall dreary feel go a long way towards taming Wolfy’s new bite.