Theatrical Review: The Wolfman

Actor Lawrence Talbot is summoned to his family home after the grisly death of his brother. And though Talbot is reluctant to return, he finds he must come to face his estranged father, John and search for the answer to his brother’s death, even though he is troubled by his own traumatic past. The answer does await Talbot, as does his terrifying family legacy.

That’s a real nutshell premise to The Wolfman starring Benecio Del Toro and directed by Joe Johnston. I mean with a title like The Wolfman there really isn’t any doubt as to what Talbot will become, is there? No, there isn’t, but the ride along the way is pretty fun to take.

The biggest thing that I like about The Wolfman is that it doesn’t try to make the werewolf genre as “precious” as what the vampire genre does these days (though I do give films like Twilight and others like it their props at least in the fact that their fan base is so willing to come in and embrace it, unlike other genre films which more often than not get savagely attacked their fans even before their release- anyway that’s the way I see it, but I digress…) and instead, it really embraces the whole Universal Horror Film aspect. That’s a real breath of fresh air, and when the film is as artfully made as what Joe Johnston has done here, it’s even better.

While I don’t think this has the impact of more contemporary set pieces as An American Werewolf in London or The Howling (this is a period piece), it still has good moments and good set pieces, and to Johnston’s credit, he moves it all along at a pretty brisk pace.

The visual effects are pretty nice, especially the transformation scenes, which are, at least to me more handled as live in camera and sweetened with some CGI more than anything else. And while the transformation is good here, it lacks some of the impact that you’ve seen in the above-mentioned films, that’s not a knock at the movie by any means, it’s just more a commentary on how far things have come and how so many fantastic scenes are now much more commonplace.

Another thing that I really liked was retaining the name of Lawrence Talbot for our main character. Larry Talbot was the name of the character played by Lon Chaney Jr. all those years ago, and I had no idea that they were going to use the same name here. the thing that really struck me odd though is that, upon hearing this, I started to see some resemblance between both Benecio Del Toro and Lon Chaney Jr., not just physically but also in their cadence. Del Toro’s solid here, though his Talbot is really underplayed, but considering his childhood emotional trauma, that can certainly help explain some of that. He really seems to eat it up, so to speak, when he’s playing the Wolfman though, and for that, I do appreciate it.

He’s backed up with Anthony Hopkins playing his father, Emily Blunt playing his childhood friend and Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard inspector who’s come to investigate the savage murders. Now I didn’t know much about this movie in advance, but I did know that Hopkins was playing Del Toro’s father, and sort’ve rolled my eyes at that from the start, considering Hopkins is definitely British and Del Toro is definitely Latin in origin, and figuring this was just going to be some sort’ve cocked-up explanation just to get someone of Hopkins’ caliber in the film. But their relation is actually handled quite credibly in some flashback scenes, and so that became a moot point. Hopkins is solid, as is Blunt, nothing to complain about and nothing that really stands out. To me though, Weaving is solid gold and of all the characters actually seems to have the most fire and passion about him.

In the end, I found The Wolfman to be solidly entertaining and a nice throwback to the heyday of Universal horror films. It doesn’t carry the same impact as some more contemporary set pieces, but it’s still nicely crafted and delivers a nice diversion.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

14. February 2010 by Darren Goodhart
Categories: Text Reviews, Theatrical Review | Leave a comment

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