“The Wolfman” is a perfect choice for updating. So much of the 1941 flick rested on good production and make-up design and now we have this lush remake from director Joe Johnston and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. The plot comes up a little short but for the most part they’ve created an awesome-looking film that also comes in just right in the spooky/gory department.
Benicio Del Toro takes over for Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, returning to his London home many years after the suicide of his mother. He is reunited with his estranged father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), and with his brother’s grieving fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). There have been many killings in the village and most of the mutterings among the villagers are of a lunatic let loose in the forest. Lawrence soon comes face to face with this evil as it attacks him one night, leaving bite marks before escaping. The attack leaves the villagers very wary of Talbot and even Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) takes a considerable interest in him as a suspect. Of course none manage to stop him before turning into a werewolf on the prowl. As Lawrence tries to control the beast within himself, he learns of a terrible secret about his family that could put Gwen in danger.
Even the original was meagerly plotted at only seventy minutes. This “Wolfman” hovers around ninety-five, wisely excising more of the meaningless talk (about Lawrence possibly be deluded, and lycan mythology), changing some plot points around (I liked the family dynamic introduced at the mid-point), and still keeping most of the better drama intact. Essentially the movie is a creature-feature-actioner (there is even a final showdown between two werewolves) but when you have production values, scares, and excitement like this, that’s hardly a bad thing.
Johnston nails the atmosphere just right, dark, dreary and foggy and with very ominous shots of the moon. The film has a quick pace and is helped out mightily by Rick Baker’s phenomenal make-up effects, Danny Elfman’s haunting score, and a bloody good time where heads, arms, and so on are ripped from bodies. The creature effects, from the transformation to the carnage, is a lot of fun and exactly what people want to see from a flick like this.
Benicio plays the tormented hero perfectly, wearing the emotional and psychological strain of being cursed all over his face. Blunt holds her own pretty well in an unfortunately underwritten love story and Hopkins is as sly as ever as Sir John Talbot. Flawed, but a howlingly good re-boot.