“I believe in miracles” sang inexplicably perennially popular songsters Hot Chocolate back in 1975, and it would appear that – in the case of The Wolfman, at least – their optimism has been vindicated, primarily because this film (which has been in development since 2006) is a startlingly good, if predictable, slice of hammer horror-esque nonsense delivered by a cast who, admittedly, spend more time chewing on scenery than the titular character spends gnawing on human flesh.
The film, a remake of the 1941 classic of the same name, sees American actor Lawrence Talbot, played by Benicio Del Toro (brow furrowed, hair ruffled), return to his ancestral home to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his brother alongside his eccentric father (Anthony Hopkins). Soon enough, though, he comes a cropper with a certain hirsute humanoid feared by the gypsies who occupy the nearby fields and, once bitten, start to experience some unexpected side-effects. Bodies begin to pile up and Scotland Yard dispatches Hugo Weaving’s sideburned inspector to find the culprit.
Of course, this is all phooey and hokum, as expected from a remake of a Universal monster movie. Indeed, it is perhaps this gleeful obedience to the tropes and idioms of the gothic horror genre, both on the part of the direction and script (albeit to varying success) that really ensures that the end product is as entertaining as it fortunately is.
Professional journeyman director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III) is really the person that one suspects much of the title’s success can be attributed to. Replacing original helmer Mark Romanek, Johnston’s intensely visual style brings a satisfying edge of pulpy brevity to the film, complemented by stunning gothic cinematography. Granted, it may all be the ominous fog and towering dilapidated grandeur so commonly associated with Victoriana, however it’s pulled off splendidly.
The script, meanwhile – courtesy of David Self and Andrew Kevin Walker – is passable if unspectacular; a reasonably uninspired retelling of the original Curt Siodmak treatment punctuated only by some intelligent soliloquies from Hopkins’ patriarch. Indeed, the characterisation of some of the protagonists comes across as rather muddled; Talbot, in particular, is set up to interest, however quickly loses face as the film increasingly descends into a furry CGI spectacular, particularly in his relationship to love interest Emily Blunt. Del Toro does the best with what he is given, but ultimately appears somewhat bored by proceedings.
However, one suspects that this is the fault of last-minute studio editing (the film’s troubled production ultimately saw two competing cuts being aired early this year to test audiences prior to release). The story, for one, jump cuts from location to location without leaving any room for exposition, unsettling any sense of pace or momentum the film had established at the beginning. Likewise, the climactic showdown, all tooth and (CGI) claw is an unsatisfactory flurry of silly effects.
Nonetheless, The Wolfman is most certainly worth one’s time. The film looks beautiful and such visual elegance is matched by enjoyable performances (Hopkins and Weaving, in particular) and a gleefully nostalgic Danny Elfman score. Nonetheless, with any luck a DVD director’s cut will ensure that the true beast within this film is eventually unleashed.