Film Review—The Wolfman

The good news is, despite long production delays and rumors of disaster, the new remake of The Wolfman isn’t bad…not bad at all. Handsome production design by Rick Heinrichs and great makeup effects by Rick Baker (who also makes a brief appearance on camera) are among its strongest assets. There are some real scares, and a couple of knockout showpiece scenes.

The bad news is, Benicio Del Toro, as the doomed Lawrence Talbot, hasn’t got much of a character to play. His backstory has been reduced to a lightning-quick flashback and a couple of lines of (dubious) exposition, so his plight—as an innocent man who’s transformed into a werewolf—doesn’t carry much emotional weight for us in the audience. (Why does he speak with an American accent when his family is British? We get an answer, but it isn’t very satisfying.)…

This being the 21st century, Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self’s update of the 1941 Curt Siodmak screenplay isn’t content to have one victim in the Talbot family. Talbot’s father, played by Anthony Hopkins, has more than a few loose screws, lives alone in his eerie castle near the moors (but for one strangely loyal servant, a sikh played by Art Malik), and harbors many dark family secrets.
Emily Blunt is perfectly fine as the fiancée of Larry Talbot’s brother, though this isn’t much of a showcase for her talents either. Hugo Weaving is well-cast as a Scotland Yard inspector who’s hot on the trail of the wolfman, and Geraldine Chaplin does a good job in the role of the dour gypsy immortalized by Maria Ouspenskaya in the classic Universal monster movie.

As directed by Joe Johnston, the new Wolfman (one word instead of two, unlike the original) gets so much right it’s a shame it just misses the mark. The scary scenes are well handled, with fleeting glimpses of modern-day gore, but the Big Finale, which I won’t give away, is a washout. Without a real character to play, Del Toro can only do so much, and we come away with no real feeling for Larry Talbot. It’s here that a direct comparison with Lon Chaney, Jr. is inevitable—and unfortunate, as Chaney’s performance remains definitive. I would still encourage anyone, especially horror-movie buffs, to see the film, even with its faults.

Trivia note: as a compulsive credit reader I was surprised to see a notation for an “assistant to Mr. Von Sydow” when Max von Sydow doesn’t appear in the finished film. Apparently his part was cut; he played the man who gave the distinctive silver-headed cane (an homage to the famous prop from 1941) to Lawrence Talbot.

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June 2024