The Wolfman isn't a great film. There are problems - visible problems, with the pacing, and with some of the scenes just not clicking. There are also considerable plot holes when you consider each aspect of the story. Despite all of this, this is a vivid successful re-imagining, because the problems are strewn along an otherwise excellent narrative.
The film is set in Victorian era England, and has some meaty subtext going on there. Setting the film in a time and place where society had just started getting to terms with civil behavior and modern thought is great, not only because of the stark contrast between the wild side of the Wolfman and the times he inhabits, but also because it lends itself to great moody textures and some incredible characters.
Primary among them is Benicio Del Toro. Brooding with a furrow even in human form, he is a great presence as it always feels like he's going to "be" the wolfman at any time. He uses his physicality very well, and despite the large name on the billboard, you look forward to the human bits.
Not so of course, when the film starts. When American bred Lawrence Talbot's brother dies in an accident, he comes home to an obviously loony father (Hopkins) and his brother's bereaved fiancee (Blunt). When he takes the investigation of the murder into his own hands, he stumbles upon an eerie gypsy village where things go southward for him real fast.
The film races to this sequence where he is bitten the first time. What's more, the excitement is palpable, and the thrill of that scene lingers. As the film progresses, we are shown many such well-executed scenes, scenes with clear vision and great textures, that carry the film on their shoulders. For every scene that breaks the illusion, Joe Johnston and his crew construct two scenes with incredible power.
The great part about the film is that the wolfman is not made a superhero. He isn't a good guy - he kills innocents in his wild rage as much as he kills bad guys. The main conflict is between a person with a wild side he wants desperately to suppress, and another who is completely consumed by it. There is a dichotomy there, but it is ripe for interpretation, and great for movie buffs like me.
We at fullhyd love our B-movies, and at its best The Wolfman feels like a terrific B-movie. Part of the success there lies with the great monster work. The CG is always understated and filmed in economical ways so as to give a hyper-real effect. Joe Johnston frames these scenes with control rather than framing them hard like most directors would have done. This lends the creature work a lot of credibility, as does the great mask work, where they let Del Toro's eyes act. In many ways this is the anti-Avatar
, and it works fantastically.
That is not to say we don't get the cathartic money shots. Oh, we do. There are scenes of absolute monster movie delight that are satisfying and lovely to behold. The London street chase sequence is what the admission ticket price is for, after all.
Of course, interspersed in the downtime are scenes that do not work. Del Toro and Blunt seem to have no chemistry, and their romance never connects. There is no spark there, no visible worth. These are dead scenes that compound the problems the film already has. I suppose all the spark was stolen by Anthony Hopkins. He relishes the thought of playing this role, and rushes in, all sceneries a-chewin', with great aplomb and devilish mirth.
Hugo Weaving has the kind of presence that even his bit role does not diminish, and works great as the audience identification character. The rest of the cast is fine, too (always great to see Art Malik!), but nothing stellar.
There are bits that don't work, as I said. Ultimately, however, the fact is that this is a well-constructed film with scenes of great vision and craft, and the (spoilery, of course) problematic bits cannot take away from that. Monster movie fans have a great film in their hands after a long while, and almost everyone else with a penchant for good adventures and moody Gothic action is well served.