It's perhaps something of a grand irony that the central dilemma of The Wolfman concerns a reserved, introspective gent battling to contain the savage beast within and given to fits of primal rage in the form of something wholly unnatural, for it is the perfect metaphor for the movie itself. The deep, eviscerating claw marks on this long-gestating, much troubled production are clear, marking it as a picture that has quite literally been hacked at and shredded by irresistible studio pressure in a misguided attempt to transform a familial drama with grand, gothic overtones into a more lucrative, Van Helsing-esque creature feature.
Before a gypsy had even been torn apart in anger, original director Mark Romanek was shown the door after two years of toiling, replaced by Joe Johnston, who promptly ordered a hefty rewrite (in between the project dodged a silver bullet after Brett Ratner passed). The result is a contorting, disjointed beast, desperately trying to maintain a grip on it's humanity, but usurped and possessed at key points by the savage forces of commercialism.
A passion project for producer/star del Toro, the enigmatic thesp, possessing an imposing frame and an ample coast already, does just about enough to avert what could have potentially been a catastrophic train wreck and deliver a passably decent homage to the `40's original. Returning to his family's Yorkshire manor upon news of his brother's brutal slaying, del Toro embodies renowned actor Lawrence Talbot, who confronts his long buried resentment towards his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) while his grief bond with his brother's widow, Gwen (Emily Blunt), gradually develops into something deeper.
The production design looks exquisite, with the Derbyshire Dales set against a deep black skyline drenched in fog, and while the locale never quite becomes a character in the way of American Werewolf's moors, it's refreshing to come to England and not to be assaulted left and right by "Cor, blimys" and "Eee by gums" every other sentence. The monster sequences themselves fare slightly less well. The commitment to the guy-in-a-suit aesthetic is admirable, but simply look tacky when placed alongside the blatantly CGI transformations. The slaughter scenes are primal and contain a certain arresting quality in line with the supernatural agility they are designed to convey, but the buckets of gore add an unintentionally comical element that undercuts the tension, and the old device of having the creature burst into the edge of the frame in extreme close-up is overused to the point of redundancy.
A fine supporting turn from Hugo Weaving, who injects a modicum of elitist sneering into his take on the city-dwelling Inspector Aberline, sadly does little to mark his character as anything other than one whose part was whittled down to obscurity. Equally lost amongst the rewrites is Gwen, who comes over less like Lawrence's last link to humanity than your stock damsel in distress, although Blunt does a handy job of trembling her bosom in the moonlight. What saves the story is a terrific double-header from del Toto and Hopkins, the Welsh actor in particular gifted of a magnificent ability to make the most tripe dialogue sound not only weighty, but worthy. And few people are able to match del Toro in terms of fevered self-doubt, the actor expertly illustrating the voyage of introspection that would leave lesser actors simply looking vacant.
Sadly though, Wolfman all too often loses sight of the central dramatic pillar of a disappointed father, and an embittered, resentful son, whilst the delicate story layers of an accomplished actor attempting to avert the town's suspicions by concealing his true self behind a persona are mercilessly crushed underfoot in favor of teen-baiting money-shots of marauding beasties and gooey, dripping entrails.
Starring: Benecio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin
Director: Joe Johnston
Runtime: 102 Minutes