The Wolfman
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Rated R for bloody horror
violence and gore
102 min.

You’ll know what to expect from The Wolfman after the first five minutes, when goofy looking blood drips down a tombstone revealing the film’s title. Or it could be when the first glimpse of the “wolf suit” is seen. (It looks more like a fan-made Chewbacca outfit.) Or perhaps it’ll be when the first few bloody decapitations leave you laughing uncomfortably at the poorly choreographed comic-book gore.

It’s not that the entire movie is terrible — just disjointed. The plot seemed fine enough; it’s a fairly generic, but still solid, origin story of Wolfman in the same vein as the Batman and James Bond reboots. It was supposed to trace the arc of what really made the Wolfman such a terrifying, cursed and unfortunate creature. And it does — just without any sort of dramatic tension or even a few real scares.

In an inspired casting move, Benicio Del Toro (also producing the movie) is the wolfman. His character, Lawrence Talbot, arrives back to his father’s countryside manor to find that his brother has been brutally murdered by some unknown beast. After an extended introduction to his creepy father (Anthony Hopkins) and several mystical gypsies, Lawrence determines to find the beast or lunatic and kill it. Bad move.

After a botched attempt at shooting the supernaturally powered wolf, the thing mauls him. Which means, of course, that by the time of the next full moon he will also become the very thing he aimed to kill.

During that first transformation sequence, in which Del Toro slowly becomes the wolf-thing, my expectations were suddenly raised. The hero, who tried valiantly to avoid this fate, was now running around London slashing and mauling innocent civilians as though it was a B-movie splatterfest. When he wakes up the next day with blood — literally — on his hands, he obviously contemplates suicide. Until he realizes that he must kill the original wolfman (I won’t reveal who it is, but it becomes increasingly obvious) to end this supernatural terrorizing once and for all.

It’s an interesting premise, but unfortunately the execution is nearly impossible to take seriously.

For every good Victorian-era production piece, scene, special effect or dramatic moment in the film, there’s also a cheesy line, odd musical interlude or bizarre costume choice (i.e., Anthony Hopkins in leopard skin) that mars the production. These warts would be forgivable in a direct-to-DVD film that was made on a shoestring budget, but for a film that reportedly cost upward of $150 million — it’s simply unforgivable. And whenever that hideous costume-store wolf suit appears (they couldn’t do any CGI?), it drains any of the tension out of a story that could be quite good.

Still, it is a quick-striking B-movie that has a curious twist that bookends the film and sets it up for a possible sequel — not that a second movie should or will be likely.

Six months from now, if you’re bored, staring blankly at the shelves in Blockbuster deciding what movie to rent, remember: seeing Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins slowly contort themselves into odd-looking Wookiees may be worth the price of a DVD rental.    

erik@vcreporter.com