"The past is a wilderness of horrors..."
The Wolfman (2010) is a remake of the original Wolf Man (1941). Changing the (then) contemporary setting to the Victorian era, Larry becomes Laurence and for every great change and good choice, there's something odd or poorly handled.
[This review will be primarily about the Director's Cut as I believe this to be the intended version, and having seen both multiple times I think this version is superior.]
The first half of The Wolfman follows the story of the original and completely enhances the original material. The setting (mentioned below) is very fitting, the entire set up is a lot better building the fact that Laurence left his home at a young age and the senior Talbot has a difficult personality, incorporating Laurence's brother's death into the plot works so well that it's surprising they didn't think of that with the original!
I liked how the characters have been changed. Gwen has also been incorporated closer to the plot. Gwen being Laurence's brother's former fiance adds a level of taboo to their relationship but also adds this interesting thing where because she asked Laurence to come home, she feels obligated to stay longer when Laurence is attacked. Also changing her to a Londoner is smart because it puts her on the side of the Talbots rather than the crazy ignorant villagers. Senior Talbot is interesting too, I really enjoy how they changed his character they added this whole back story of him being a world traveler previously (incorporating an origin to the werewolf infliction) and being really religious offers some interesting additions and parallels with the parable of the prodigal son and I especially liked the allusion to the story of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel. Lastly I really enjoyed how they made Laurence a Shakespearean actor, this offered some amazing parallels to Hamlet and other works by The Bard.
I also found it interesting that this film makes a lot of references to and is highly inspired by An American Werewolf in London (1981). They add in the theory from that film that a werewolf needs to be killed by one who loves him, there's a scene with the werewolf creating chaos on the streets of London complete with crashing cars and people being hit or run over just like the climax of that film, they played with the madness of the inflicted seeing terrifying illusions/dreams, they brought in Rick Baker the award winning makeup artist from that film and even the transformation sequence (though this time in CG... see below) are an obvious nod to Baker's work and that film. I don't have a problem with this, as that film was obviously inspired by the original, but An American Werewolf in London ADDS to the original instead of just doing references and homages, this film more often than not just references with very little added.
For all the good that's in this film, I found a whole lot of bad too. Some of the Dialogue is just plain poorly written. You have great actors and they scenes just flop because they're stuck to this ridged, poorly written dialogue. Some of the things are over done. You really don't need as many scenes as they showed of Laurence and Gwen to understand that they love each other. And one of their major bonding moments is over Laurence showing Gwen how to skip stones? This is like, "I don't know what people did before television and movies... let's just throw anything in there!" Also another OVER hinted thing that (I think it works better in the theatrical version but) they OVER hint that there's something up with the Senior Talbot in the director's cut version. You really just need one scene of him acting strange to make audiences go: "OOOOOOOHH that's why...!" later when you reveal it.
This movie's director apparently didn't learn anything from the movie's two previous inspirations though because he showed too much! This is what The Wolf Man does poorly and An American Werewolf In London does really well! Once again the temptation of CG has led another film astray. You hired a magnificent monster maker like Rick Baker who is old school and does everything with makeup and materials and then you shit all over him by doing the transformation scene (the thing that put him on the map) in CG! The CG effects and the makeup both work on their own but when you transition between them in the same scene it looks horrible! Showing a CG full-on Sir Anthony Hopkins' face while he gets all hairy may be tempting with your new technology but it looks really horrible!
Everything that's great about the first half of the movie is nearly non-existent in the second half. The movie literally degrades into an action movie with "crazy" werewolf fights, A werewolf loose in London who does next to nothing except run away and characters rushing back between London and Black Moor in the most poorly written way possible.
Oh I'm not done yet! I really hated the way Hugo Weaving's character Inspector Aberline was handled. I get it he's supposed to be the "big city cop," former Scotland yard who uses logic to solve his cases but it comes off so cliche and poorly done that I just rolled my eyes about every scene he's in. Hugo Weaving tries to do as much as he can with the character, and I actually don't mind his performance but he's just poorly written.
I applaud the attempt Universal made to try and bring back the flood of monster movies. They keep trying every few years and history has shown us that they'll get it right and it will come again someday, but The Wolfman is not the one that will do it. They do a smart thing where they hired a lot of great big actors for this movie. My personal theory about the classic universal movies was that they were spurred on by the great actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff. So having a cast with Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving was a really smart move. I appreciate the attempt to be truthful to the original for the most part: following the original story (sometimes), using a makeup monster (sometimes), keeping him as a literal "Wolf-man" on two legs (sometimes), and using very few jump scares and gore(sometimes). Maybe with better writing this movie wouldn't have flopped as badly (or if I didn't have to add a sometimes to all of those...)
I think one of the smartest things this film did was throw the time of the setting back to a Victorian one. This not only offers beautiful sets and costumes but more importantly (story-wise) puts the story in a place where science and technology is finally blooming but still a lot of the masses and people are superstitious and not willing to forget the stories of old.
The Wolfman (2010) is a decent remake that's actually more enjoyable if you've seen the original recently. But it works on its own and has some good things going on, it just wasn't enough to jump start another set of monster movies as Universal had hoped. 3.5/5 stars.
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