Director: Joe Johnston
Stars: Benecio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
***originally written 3 March 2010***
I didn’t see a trailer for The Wolfman. In fact, I only saw one poster. It features Emily Blunt in the foreground, hiding herself behind a tree from an unseen menace in the distant woods. It is a striking image to use for promotional purposes because it doesn’t show the titular menace. A little searching with Google Images reveals that there are in fact a number of poster designs that do. But based on this one image, I was given to the suspicion that The Wolfman might not be your typical gung-ho Hollywood cash-in on age-old mythology. It gave a sense of mystery, or tension. That this might be a big-budget movie that thinks.
The Wolfman is a messily constructed compilation of clichés, greedily and rapidly ticking the boxes on as many overused devises as possible, and nothing is ever a surprise. Supposedly this version exists and stars Benecio del Toro because of his own affection for the werewolf story. It was his project. What baffles then is how utterly bored he appears all the way through the film, playing the stricken hero with all the emotion you might muster on checking a weather forecast. The same too goes for Huge Weaving as the luckless Scotland Yard copper trying to piece together exactly what is happening. They prowl through a very American image of Victorian England’s gothic countryside, with an obligatory stop-off in London in the mid-section of the film for a quite-fun action sequence that feels lifted out of a different type of movie altogether.
Only Anthony Hopkins appears to be having any fun, hamming it up as del Toro’s father figure (I’ve already forgotten half of the characters’ names). Emily Blunt plays something of a thankless role as a dully serious love interest well enough, but there’s not enough for her. In fact this sense of morbid seriousness pressed into a trite storyline riddled with stereotypes leads to a few unintentionally funny moments. It’s all too easy to end up taking the piss out of the film. If they had acknowledged the very unoriginality of their material and poked fun at it, this might’ve all turned out very different, but the sense that this is supposed to be a legitimate movie makes almost everything fail to deliver.
And even this very seriousness is done at half-measures. Everything is rushed, so little or no tension is given time to build. An intrusive, sub-X-Files score cues up all the false-scares. And when the film goes for nasty, gore replaces any sense of genuine horror. This is The Wolfman On Speed. The weeks fly past rapidly in order to get us to the next full-moon for more wolfy fun, except that the uneven CG effects of man-to-beast mutation are stifled by the man-in-a-costume reveal afterward. By twenty minutes in I’d guessed at least half of the remainder. Not because I’m all that smart, but because it was already clear The Wolfman had no ambitions beyond replicating what we’ve all seen or heard before in some form or other. It feels very much a “that’ll do” picture on behalf of both cast and crew. More thought required. How very Hollywood.