Universal has had a troublesome relationship with critics and audiences when it comes to revitalizing their classic monster properties. Stephen Sommers’ universally panned VAN HELSING was a notorious failure, both critically and financially, a reboot of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON has languished in development hell since the 90’s and more recently, DRACULA UNTOLD didn’t sit too well with genre fans despite being a pretty fun ride in this reviewer’s humble opinion. Which brings us to what may just be the most overlooked installment in these attempted monster remakes: 2010’s THE WOLFMAN.
The story is simple and well-known to genre aficionados. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro, Sicario) returns to his ancestral home after the death of his brother. There he meets his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs) and his brother’s grieving widow (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow). Soon he discovers that his brother’s death may not have been so natural and is soon inflicted with a curse that forces him to change to a brutal werewolf every full moon. He must dodge an obsessive inspector (Hugo Weavings, The Matrix) and control the monster within before it can destroy the ones it loves.
It’s no secret that this film didn’t go over well with fans. The use of CGI and casting of del Toro was a common source of complaints. However, I’d argue that those complaints are completely unfounded. Del Toro may not have the likeability of Lon Chaney Jr. but he does have the look and the acting chops for playing the tortured titular character. The CGI isn’t too bad and it helps that the Wolfman himself is a wonderfully realized prosthetic work by the legendary Rick Baker, who would go on to win an Oscar for his work on this film. The award was presented to him by Helen Mirren, who upon giving Baker the award simply said ‘Gross’.
Good make-up isn’t the only thing this unsung monsterpiece has going for it, though. As far as directors-for-hire go, you could do a whole lot worse than Joe Johnson. He gives the film a distinctly gothic vibe that is more reminiscent of Hammer than it is Universal. The movie just oozes with good atmosphere and terrific set pieces than manage to both create fear and excitement, expertly balancing old fashioned terror with modern-day action elements to create a surprisingly fluid hybrid that I feel perfectly adapts the character for contemporary audiences. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like contemporary audiences actually felt that way.
The supporting cast all put in the best they can, with Hopkins seeming to be having the most fun as Talbot’s mysterious and slightly unstable father. Huge Weavings gets to chew some scenery but isn’t given enough to do to really leave much of an impression and Emily Blunt is just completely wasted as the love interest. Max von Sydow has an uncredited cameo appearance for those who choose to see the director’s cut (his one scene was omitted from the inferior theatrical cut).
But it’s the cinematography and production design that’s the true star of this movie. Any flaws that the script may present are undone by just how beautiful this film is to look at. You could easily mute the film and play the isolated score over it and you’d have an excellent audio-visual experience right there. It’s a very rich looking film where even the harshest of genre fans should be able to find something worth enjoying, even if it the substance isn’t exactly up to par with what they’ve come to demand from these types of films.
At the end of the day, it is what you’d probably expect it to be. It’s a stylish monster flick with lots of gore and hammy performances. But you know what? In being so purely simple in its approach, it manages to be the truest to its source material out of all the Universal reboots so far. It has no grand illusions about itself. It delivers what it promised and that just doesn’t seem to be enough for most viewers anymore. But at the end of the day, I feel like it will stand the test of time and prove that adapting these characters for the current movie goer isn’t impossible.