In the post-Twilight Era it is difficult to take werewolves, vampires, and their ilk seriously; and even more difficult to find them scary. The Monster Movie, while it sputters in anemic existence by coupling itself with romances, comedies and action flicks, is, in the purist sense, dead. To our grandparents, couched in their Freudian paradigm -- a world where unknown terrors lurked in the subconscious and civilization served to repress man's bestial nature--a monster embodied a fear of an unknowable internal darkness, a man disassociated from societal restraint. Vampires substituted blood sucking for transgressive sexuality and a werewolf indulged in forbidden bloodlust. Our modern value set leaves a lot less to repress -- civilization has become more relativistic and permissive in its acceptance of "aberrant" behaviors. Even what is not accepted is explained by modern psychology -- you are perhaps sick, but not damned. It is no surprise that monster-dom has become a mere affectation.
And this brings us to The Wolfman -- a modern rendition of the 1941 classic of the same name. It fails not only as a Monster Movie, but as a drama, romance and action-thriller as well. Despite its beautiful visuals, which perfectly capture the lavish set design and cinematic compositions of Classic Hollywood, it seems adrift -- unsure what sort of film it is, lost in the mist that blankets every scene. The dialogue is little more than a stream of clichés and the characters -- what characters?
Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, an American stage actor who returns to his childhood home in Blackmoor, England upon learning of his brother's mysterious death. His father, Lord Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), is strangely cold and unconcerned about the whole affair, while his brother's fiancée (Emily Blunt) serves as a romantic foil. About ten movie minutes after his arrival, he becomes a werewolf when he is bitten by a pre-existing lycanthrope. He proceeds to commit many a gruesome massacre and discover the secrets of his past. It hardly goes without saying, but there's a lot more gore, a lot more action and a lot more stupid plot twists.
Perhaps the most surprising deficit lies in the acting. If I could name any actor with the potential to successfully portray the Wolfman in all his allegorical splendor, I would have named Del Toro. There is something of the caged tiger about him -- an animal quality that pervades all of his work, which is why his muted performance is so shocking. Perhaps the awkward American accent he was forced to adopt for the role constrained him to the point of suffocation. Anthony Hopkins seems aware of the script's awfulness and delivers his lines perfunctorily with a mocking lilt. Only Emily Blunt seems to be making a sincere go of it, but not even her substantial talents transcend the overall putrescence.
Apropos the introductory paragraph: the film makes a superficial (and unintentionally comedic) attempt to pay homage to the original thematic elements of the genre. Twice, the line, "Where does the man end and the beast begin?" is uttered, as if somehow this described the film's content. It doesn't. The Wolfman is just another pointless, thematically dead action movie with a monster gimmick.