Actor Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) returns to the stately home where he grew up after the death of his brother. His brothers fiancée, Gwen (Blunt) and father (Hopkins) await him there and something rather furrier and more dangerous besides.
It was March 2006 when Universal announced a remake of the classic Lon Chaney-starring Wolfman. And here, almost four years later, is the result. Through a pre-production change of director, reshoots and delays so long that even James Cameron’s long-postponed Avatar preceded it, this strain of lycranthropy has persevered. Still, it’s doubtful whether this bears any resemblance to the script that went into production. The unfortunate Lawrence Talbot’s transformation into a wolfman isn’t the only mutation afflicting this film.
The problem is tone. It’s clear, in cinematographer Shelly Johnson’s atmospheric visuals and Benicio del Toro’s subdued performance, that this film was once a restrained horror, almost a straight family drama that happened to have a werewolf in it. It’s also clear that someone, at some point, decided to splatter buckets of gore – and more than a few stray limbs – over that film in the hope of bringing in teenage gorno aficionados. While the frayed plot strands have been neatly knotted together to ensure that it still makes sense – by no means a given in films as delayed as this – there’s nevertheless a jarring shift at each change of gear.
So we have a few good action set-pieces – the attack on a gypsy camp, a transformation and chase through the streets of London – alongside some creepier mist-draped moments in the woods, and valiant attempts at squeezing character development in among it all. The pieces largely work, but they never work together – rather like the wolfman’s transformation. While the film’s commitment to the man-in-suit model of special effects is in keeping with the filmmakers’ obvious love of the original, with werewolf supremo Rick Baker delivering an impressively mobile result, the mixture of CG transformation scenes and the furry prosthetics that result never rings true.
The cast are better, but their performances show the effects of the chopping and changing. Anthony Hopkins’ eccentric and sinister Lord Talbot would have offered welcome colour to a more restrained film, but here is too broad to fit next to the tortured pairing of del Toro’s Lawrence and Emily Blunt’s grieving Gwen, while at the same time overshadowed by the violent mayhem around him. It’s left to Hugo Weaving’s Inspector Abeline to hit the right note between cynicism, fear and adventure – but he appears too little to hold the film on course.
An uneven tone and the feeling of too many cooks mars the finished product, but there are moments of beauty and real terror.