I have to admit that I’m always a little bit surprised to discover how many people really don’t like the 2010 film, The Wolfman.
I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that it may not have been the greatest film ever made but the amount of negative feelings that this film has managed to generate over the years seems, to me, to be a bit out of proportion. Essentially, it’s just a silly film about a werewolf.
Yes, it is a remake of The Wolf Man and we’re all honor-bound to dislike remakes but, if we’re going to be absolutely honest, the original Wolf Man was sometimes pretty silly too. If anything, the original’s success is largely due to the heartfelt work of Claude Rains in the role of the Wolf Man’s father. Yes, the original Wolf Man is a classic but remaking it is not exactly sacrilege.
In the remake, Benicio Del Toro takes over the role of Larry Talbot, who is reimagined as a Shakespearean actor who has a history of mental instability. Del Toro is not exactly convincing as an Englishman, though the same could be said of Lon Chaney, Jr. However, nobody broods with quite the panache of Benicio Del Toro and that’s what was needed for the remake’s version of Larry Talbot. If Lon Chaney, Jr. played Larry as being a dumb lug, Del Toro plays Larry as being a tortured artist.
Anthony Hopkins takes over the old Claude Rains role. Just as it’s difficult to imagine Del Toro as being English, it’s next to impossible to imagine him sharing any DNA with Anthony Hopkins. And yet, I’m really glad that Hopkins was cast in the role. Of course, in the remake, the character of John Talbot has been totally reimagined. He’s now something of a bitter and sarcastic alcoholic, a negligent father who always seem to be amused at some mean-spirited joke that only he can understand. I imagine that if I asked Hopkins, he’d say that he did this role for the money but there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of Hopkins’s best performances have been the ones that he subsequently claimed to have done only for the money. Freed from any obligation to give a nuanced or subtle performance, Hopkins goes totally over-the-top and it’s actually a lot of fun to watch. In The Wolfman, Hopkins turns the delivery of bitter bon mots and erduite insults into an art form.
Watching the film’s first half, we all know what’s going to happen. Gypsies are going to show up in the woods near Talbot Hall and paranoid villagers are going to blame them for everything that happens. Larry is going to get bitten by a werewolf and transform every night when the moon is full. Larry is going to fall in love with Gwen (Emily Blunt) but, for her own protection, will try to send her away. An arrogant but clever inspector, Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving, playing a version of the real-life detective who inspired the role played by Johnny Depp in From Hell), is going to arrive from London to investigate all the recent deaths…
About halfway through, The Wolfman takes a totally unexpected turn. I won’t spoil it here, just in case you haven’t seen the movie. I know a lot of people don’t care much for the big twist but I happened to love it. Yes, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense and it’s all a bit overdone but so what? It’s exactly the type of weird twist that a movie like this needs. It all leads to a final confrontation, one that is as exuberantly silly as the original’s conclusion was somber and tragic.
The key to enjoying The Wolfman is to accept it for what it is, an occasionally dumb and definitely not-to-be-taken-seriously movie that features some appropriately atmospheric cinematography, gorgeously gothic production design, and some very talented actors. (I especially enjoyed Weaving’s performance as Abberline.) A classic it may not be, but it’s still a fun little movie if you’re in the right mood for it.