Capone calls THE WOLFMAN solid horror for grown folk, despite its flaws!!!
Published at: Feb. 12, 2010, 7:16 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I've been tearing my hair out about this one for about two hours now trying to decide how I feel about this latest version of THE WOLFMAN, and the fact that I'm still contemplating it and have so many feelings about it makes me think that I genuinely did enjoy the experience of watching this often-flawed exercise in bizarre horror, gothic weirdness, controlled hammy acting, and the evolution of werewolf transformation effects that takes the process to somewhere beyond awesome. Thank you, Rick Baker.
After watching the film this initial time, I have come to realize that Benicio del Toro was destined to play Lawrence Talbot, the man of noble birth who left behind his cursed family's estate when he was young to become a now-famous actor in America in turn-of-the-last-century England. Del Toro is one of the few actors that can so fully embrace the complexities and inner turmoil of Talbot as written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, and were it not for him, the film would have been a colossal failure. Talbot is a man with plenty of control issues long before a werewolf bites him during a vicious attack on a gypsy camp. Since there's no real mystery that Talbot will become a werewolf himself at the next full moon, THE WOLFMAN occasionally runs into the problem of waiting for the next bloody massacre. The gypsy camp attack is so ferocious that it almost sets the bar too high for what comes after it.
Talbot has returned to England because his brother's fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) has written him a letter begging him to come home and figure out what happened to the man, who has turned up dead mere days before, the victim of a sensationally violent attack. Since Talbot has yet to be bitten at this point, we immediately begin to wonder who is the mystery werewolf, but since I've seen a movie before, I was in no way kept guessing. And while there are more than enough scary moments peppered throughout THE WOLFMAN to keep most audiences thoroughly entertained, there's remarkably little drama or tension anywhere in this movie. It's kind of a huge, ongoing problem, but it didn't sink the ship for me entirely.
Director Joe (JURASSIC PARK III) Johnston goes to dark place in his version of THE WOLFMAN that few versions have dared go, beginning and ending with the truly gory killings. Heads and limbs are flying every which way, and the film's two werewolves commonly rip out people's necks or gut them with a swift rip of the claws, leaving entrails strewn across the ground. It's great fun and a real crowd pleaser. But then there are other, more unexpected places Johnston takes us. For example, the local authorities investigating the series of murders in town decide that Talbot is simply a maniac who needs intense psychiatric care to cure him of his homicidal impulses. The mad scientist who is his shrink puts him through one torturous round of sadistic psychotherapy after another. Del Toro is put through several layers of hell that simply can't be faked, culminating in a medical theater sequence that gets wonderfully nasty.
But THE WOLFMAN combines scenes of attempted high drama and psychological depth with others in which the filmmakers are almost daring us not to laugh. And many of those scenes involve Sir Anthony Hopkins as Talbot's father. Now don't get me wrong, I can watch Hopkins peel a grape and be wildly entertained, but what he's doing here at times borders on self-parody, or worse, silliness. I was never quite sure what his motivations were. He seems pleased that his estranged son has returned to him, but he also seems to want him dead. And while I could never get bored watching Hopkins, that doesn't necessarily mean the man can't baffle me from time to time. This is one of those times. I liked the way he plays the elder Talbot, but I don't think I could interpret his behavior or pass a test on it. I'll leave it at that.
The film's most normal character is the inspector named Aberline (Hugo Weaving of THE MATRIX and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies). He's after a killer, and he has a pretty good idea who that killer is, especially after he sees Lawrence transform before his very eyes and escape from the mental asylum. His approach to capture said villain may not sit well with the locals, but it's pretty straightforward and logical. Weaving's voice just projects authority, and anything he says, I believe. Even as grossly underwritten as his character is, there's no denying the Weaving is fantastic in this movie.
Perhaps the element to THE WOLFMAN that excited me most was the look of the werewolf. Baker's creation is a variation of Lon Chaney Jr.'s version of the character, and when I saw the creature in a white shirt, black vest, and tattered pants, I got a little excited. There's no shame. He's not going for the wolf look; he's attempting a half-man/half-wolf entity. I also loved the way the upright running Wolfman could lean forward and become the running-on-all-fours Wolfman to pick up some speed. And the transformation sequences are the real star of the show. You hear Talbot's bones snap as they realign for a more feral look. He human teeth fall out as his canine fangs move in for the night. It's an ugly, gut-wrenching experience, and there is little on this earth that matches it on the coolness meter.
THE WOLFMAN has trouble connecting when it needs to a lot of the time, which is not to say it never does; it just doesn't do so enough for me to flat out praise this movie with no reservations. Some exceptional performances push the film just far enough over the line for me to recommend what this odd work is trying to accomplish. I give it points for trying to make a horror film in a style that nobody else has in years, or maybe never has with this specific blend of classic drama, modern butchery, and timeless whackiness. If you have a great fondness for the werewolf legend, I think you'll appreciate what Johnston & Co. are attempting to do here, even when it doesn't always work. If the extent of your werewolf knowledge is what you've seen in the UNDERWORLD and TWILIGHT movies, please step aside and let the grown folks enjoy their monsters. THE WOLFMAN is a horror film made for thinking adults who reject the idea that you need to empty your brain to enjoy a scary movie.
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