Movie review: The Wolfman, starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving

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Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, who returns to his familial estate after his brother turns up dead. I mentioned that Talbot is a famous actor. I'd tell you more, but I've got nothing to add since that's the only character detail the movie provides. Del Toro plays Talbot as a man mostly devoid of emotion — i.e., he's wooden as fuck, almost as if he's acting in scenes he doesn't understand and softly feeling his way through the material. Talbot reunites with his father (Anthony Hopkins, chewing the scenery in as refined a manner possible) and his man-servant Singh (Art Malik), and meets his brother's now-widow (Emily Blunt). I think they fall in love, but Blunt underplays everything almost as much as Del Toro, giving their "relationship" all the heat of the Winter Olympics.


Talbot investigates a gypsy tribe the villagers think must be responsible for the strange killings on the moor (you know, because the gypsies own a big bear). While there, a fast-moving hairball attacks and starts indiscriminately killing people. Talbot goes in pursuit, only to end up a partial meal himself. The good news is that he not only survives the attack, but manages to heal in a manner that confounds his doctor. Of course, his physical recovery will take a strange turn at the next full moon — when the CGI and Rick Baker's creature suit take over.


Baker was responsible for the transformation effects in An American Werewolf in London, my favorite werewolf film to date. (My runner-up: Teen Wolf. Sorry, Lon.) Baker's involvement serves as a nifty illustration of how computer graphics work has made his art obsolete. When Del Toro is shifting from man to wolf-beast, the effects are grotesque, realistic and all CGI. Once the shape-shift is complete we jump (mostly) to Baker's real-world suit and prosthetics, which are well-done yet unconvincing. That's not to say all the CGI work is great (when the creature starts running around the rooftops of London, I often found myself cracking up at the fakeyness of it all), but it still outshines the practical effects which are little more than a guy in a gorilla suit.


I will concede that there are several effective set pieces, in particular the inevitable scene where the creature is wheeled into a room full of observers only to escape and go on a murderous rampage. I also enjoyed how some of the violence is so gloriously over-the-top as to border on parody. But when the argument in favor of a movie begins and ends with "It's so violent that it becomes funny," you know you're in trouble. You also know the movie isn't for children, no matter the fact that Universal is already funneling the Wolfman character into its kid-friendly theme parks.


I'm not a big fan of the werewolf mythos in general, so it should come as no surprise that I didn't think much of Universal's The Wolfman, a big-budget relaunch of the classic horror franchise. Directed by Joe Johnston (Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Jumanji), The Wolfman is an atmospheric period tale that gleefully lifts elements of the old classic films, amps up the violence and special effects, and still manages to come off as boring and muddled. The flaws here are many, but they begin with the star; Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects, Che) is an actor I usually love, but he somehow fails at playing a famous actor bitten by a strange beast and turned into one himself. Though The Wolfman strives for Gothic terror, Del Toro's performance proves the most horrific thing in the movie.

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