Remember Van Helsing? That Hugh Jackman vehicle from a few years back? I found it totally unwatchable, so much so that I had to turn it off after about a half hour or so. It was on par with Kenneth Branagh’s disastrous Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, but I actually saw that one in the theatres so I felt required to sit through the whole thing. Both films were vastly inferior to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, but audiences still had to tolerate what Keanu Reeves thought passed for an English accent.
Clearly, Universal Pictures attempts to reinvigorate their legendary Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, et all) has met with varying degrees of success, which would make one sceptical about how well the studio would succeed with their next remake, The Wolfman. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3, the forthcoming The First Avenger: Captain America) and starring Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, the human who ultimately becomes our title character, The Wolfman has seen its own share of ups and downs over the last few years, as its release was delayed multiple times since 2008. Those sorts of delays typically never bode well for a film, and there’s been some fairly bad buzz surrounding The Wolfman (reshoots, editing and special effects issues). Happily, having sat through the movie over the weekend I can say that the buzz was pretty off the mark – of all the Universal horror film remakes, The Wolfman is hands down the best.
As an American actor returning home to England to find out how his brother was viciously murdered, Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot as somewhat quiet and reserved, which makes his ultimate transformation all the more riveting. Apparently Del Toro is a huge fan of the original Lon Chaney Jr film from 1941, and he honours his predecessor by not hamming it up, unlike other actors who have stepped into the legendary Universal monster roles (yes, that’s right, Robert DeNiro. I’m talking to you). Anthony Hopkins, no stranger to these remakes as he played Van Helsing in Coppola’s Dracula, is fairly understated as Talbot’s father until the end of the film. What I found most exciting about Hopkns’ appearance is that, with his long grey hair and beard, I felt as though I was seeing the beginnings of how he’ll appear next year, as the All Father Odin in Thor. The rest of the cast are all fine (Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt), but this really is a two man, one wolf show.
I thought that the make-up that turns Del Toro into the Wolfman was done spectacularly well (no surprise, as noted make-up artist Rick Baker was inspired to his livelihood by the original film). There’s nothing cheesy about the creature’s appearance, or the violence he inflicts throughout the film for that matter. This is a brutal, R-rated monster movie, full of torn limbs, blood, and guts. There’s also some great scenes of the Wolfman running through the streets of London that I thought were really entertaining.
The Wolfman is far from perfect, mind you. While there are some instances of tension, there weren’t a ton of scary moments to it (to be fair, if you watch those original Universal flicks today, you’d likely say the same thing). It moves very slowly at times, and there are more than a few plot holes that left me wondering what some of the characters (and the creators) were thinking. But as we moved towards the inevitable ending of The Wolfman, I found myself appreciating how different the movie was than the typical horror fare that’s been hitting theatres over the last few years. Like the original, there’s an emphasis on storytelling throughout The Wolfman that I totally admired. By honouring its roots, there’s a good chance that the new generation of horror fans may go back to the original Universal monsters to see where it all began.
Preferably they’ll start their education when there’s a full moon.