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Movie Review - 'The Wolfman'

The Wolfman

Starring Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Anthony Hopkins
Directed by Joe Johnston
Rated R

wolfmanposter.jpg I'm not sure what Universal was going for with The Wolfman, but my intuition tells me this isn't it.

The film should be a ready-made hit: The studio that made movie monsters household names is opening the crypt again after 70 years, but The Wolfman is a depressingly bad movie.

Is it worth wondering how it went so wrong? Maybe it isn't worth your time or mine, but it should be worth someone's, because a project like this shouldn't resemble a project like this.

The history of The Wolfman has been written about over and over again: It changed directors, release dates (twice), visual effects, editors, and musical scores, which it later changed back to the original work by Danny Elfman. But everything you need to make a modern Wolfman already exists. It comes from good stock, the story is known to millions, and it had support in all the right places. How on Earth did it wind up as, well, a wounded animal?

Without going into the plot - which needs no introduction - it should be pointed out that very little beyond the printed page seems to work. Benicio Del Toro is almost shockingly miscast, Emily Blunt seems far too informal for the Victorian Era (strange given how well she portrayed the queen for which that half-century is named), and Anthony Hopkins is barely attentive past the point of seeing if his name is spelled correctly on the check.

There are two positives for the ensemble, however. The first is the all-too-brief presence of Hugo Weaving, playing a Scotland Yard detective pursuing leads in the case of mysterious countryside maulings that he believes have a less-than-supernatural explanation. He's quite good, but by comparison, so is silence and inaction. The second plus is that you might not notice how bad the principal performers are if you pay attention to anything else.

Director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3) does as little as possible to create a visual world we can believe. This film is set at roughly the same time as Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, and even though there are very contemporary flourishes in that film, it is far more believable in terms of production design, costuming, and cinematography. This film looks like a parade of soundstages, indiscriminantly lit, purposelessly dressed, and unimaginatively photographed. It has all the authenticity of an Olan Mills photo backdrop.

Yes, there is an austere English manor, broken down from years of mistreatment, and yes, there is the pulsating moonlight in the moors. But Johnston does so little with any of it aside from making sure we know it's there. Half the fun of going back 120 years at the movies is feeling transported, and that simply doesn't happen here.

It's hard to tell whether or not that's a worse sin than screwing up the modern effects, which also don't do the film any favors. Rick Baker receives credit for "Special Makeup Effects," and if you know one makeup artist in the entire world, it's probably Rick Baker. And it's probably because his transformative makeup in An American Werewolf in London raised the bar so high, he was awarded the first Academy Award in that category. Strange, though, that our werewolf technology has regressed since 1981. It looks OK here, but where the makeup and the CGI effects meet is not a very comfortable point at all, and you wonder whether or not we'd be better off with less or more of either or both.

Recently, it was reported that Universal would still pursue more monster movies from its archives. That's not a bad thing at all, though the fact that it had to be made clear because of negative press surrounding this film isn't terribly reassuring. There's merit to what they're trying to do here, but it needs a much clearer vision and much better execution than The Wolfman to be worth the effort.

Reader Comments (14)

Just saw the midnight showing. Wow that was hard to sit through. Weaving performance is the only part of the movie worth mentioning. How can this movie be wrong in every way. I'm a huge fan of blunt and del toro but this was embarrassing. Not to mention hopkins accent changing from scene to scene lol. The last five minutes ended with half the audience laughing.

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheCleaner

They should've given this film to ME!!!! I'd have made it work, it would have been a fecundity of genius!
Oh what might have been.

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUWE BOLL!

I caught the sneak preview of this on Tuesday and agree with pretty much everything written here. Anthony Hopkins didn't even bother to pause during his lines and Benecio Del Toro was painful to watch. The absolute and complete lack of chemistry between him and Emily Blunt was painfully evident. The entire third act was an immense letdown and the audience groaned when the credits rolled.

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermdamien13

UWE BOLL, I get jokes!

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSnawt

Maybe I thought it was ok because I saw it for free on Tuesday night.. haha. I ending was absolutely horrible for sure.

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

I didnt think it was too horribly bad. but it wasnt good.
and this guys supposed to be directing Captain America?? uh oh

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

If I'm to believe TheCleaner, and this movie is so bad that it had the theater laughing at the end, then I've got to see The Wolfman . I've been waiting for a shockingly inept horror movie for sometime, and I hope I've found it.

Friday, February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVince

Oh the cinematic landscape is littered with shockingly inept horror flicks already, there was no need to wait.

Saturday, February 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAsana

"There's merit to what they're trying to do here, but it needs a much clearer vision and much better execution than The Wolfman to be worth the effort." ... Couldn't have said it better myself. Thought it was an OK movie. Looking forward to an updated edition of the book. In the meantime, I'm settling for this free online novel, said to be a prequel to The Wolfman, although I have my doubts. It's an interesting idea though.

Saturday, February 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjljackson

I watched this movie, i really liked it, found it for free here:

Monday, February 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermoviefan

I sat through the entire movie. I was really angry about 5 minutes into it. I turned to my friend and said What the hell did they do my Wolfman movie? Lon Chaney is a legend. Wolfman is a horror classic. Why did Universal do this. Its so disrespectful to those who fathered this whole franchise. It really angers me. If Universal wanted cheap then they shouldnt have made this film. Ill never go see another Universal film. Whoever is running that place should be made to apologize to the world and then should be fired. Theres no excuse for the mess that this movie was. Del Toro? WHAT? And who are the writers? Are they kids? Sixth graders? Who? Universal you owe everyone an apology and a refund.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Dean

I was looking forward to this, I'm a big fan of del Toro, Hopkins and Weaving -- but this was just soul-deadening. This is how we are going to remake the classics? What an absolute horror! Is that how the movie is trying to scare viewers, with the thought of more abortions labeled as remakes? I didn't even last until the end of this movie -- I had to walk out in the middle.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddOne
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