The movie relies heavily on the mythology of lycanthropy and its effect on good and evil.
Director Joe Johnston must be given credit for his remake of The Wolfman, a campy Hollywood classic. In an age where every studio and producer is pushing CGI and giving actors less and less screen time, Johnston makes the conscious choice to follow in the original movie’s footsteps and create a monster almost entirely with just makeup and prosthetics. While this homage to the great universal monster movies will be appreciated by classic film fans, it is likely to turn off many audience members who are expecting to see computer-generated characters with celebrity voices.
The movie relies heavily on the mythology of lycanthropy and its effect on good and evil. Set in 1891, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) travels to his home in England after hearing that his brother has gone missing. When he arrives, his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), informs Lawrence that his brother was savagely murdered only days before. Left to grieve is his brother’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt), who decides to leave the town and return to her family.
Initially, Lawrence suspects that the band of Gypsies that has recently settled in the area are to blame for his brother’s death, but when he visits the camp he is attacked and bitten by a creature with supernatural strength and speed. After an unbelievably quick recovery, Lawrence is visited by Abberline (Hugo Weaving), the local constable, who is immediately suspicious of Lawrence and his sudden appearance in town. While he is trying to extricate himself from blame for the massacre at the Gypsy village, Lawrence also becomes very aware of changes that are happening to him as the full moon gets closer.
My only real complaint with The Wolfman is that Johnston gives Del Toro very little character to explore or develop. Del Toro is one of the most talented actors working today, yet we see little more from him than a withdrawn demeanor and stoic ambivalence. The fun of the werewolf movie is watching the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation and the toll it takes on a person’s psyche. Johnston doesn’t let Del Toro free to play with what this man must truly be experiencing and the effect it takes on his physical and mental well-being.
Hopkins, though, does give a wonderful performance as the father who seems to know an awful lot about the mythology of lycanthropy and the evils of the curse. Here, we catch in his eyes the sinister stare he gave us as Hannibal Lector and reminds us how frightening he truly is. As Sir John, though, we are not sure if he is mourning, cursed or just completely insane.
By choosing to use makeup instead of CGI, Johnston is going to alienate and turn off some audiences, so he went to Rick Baker, the best in the business, to put Del Toro through a truly realistic and believable transformation. Baker is successful because of how well each stage of the prosthetics is seamlessly transitioned to the next through the use of minimal computer-generated effects. This allows Johnston to showcase the Wolfman in his entirety because the audience will be looking at an actual actor and not something created digitally.
The movie will no doubt be harangued by audiences who expect a more terrifying version of The Wolfman, but it does a decent job of honoring the classic while also giving it a fresh feel by creating its own mythology and take on the curse. | Matthew F. Newlin