Review of The Wolfman
February 19, 2010
It takes only one fateful bite to turn from ordinary theater actor into The Wolfman. The sheer amount of discount-quality cheese in The Wolfman could cause even those without a history of lactose intolerance to be overcome with a rumbling discomfort.
In The Wolfman, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is summoned back to his childhood home to help find his brother, who has gone missing under mysterious circumstances. When he arrives, he meets Gwen (Emily Blunt), his brother’s love who sent for him, and sees his father, John (Anthony Hopkins), for the first time in years. During his investigation, he uncovers a family secret, faces his past, and meets the creature that will change his life, and body, forever. The creature creates such a stir that Scotland Yard sends investigator Fredrick Abberline (Hugo Weaving) to find it.
There is no easy way to explain the feeling of an intelligent brain going through the process of goo-ification. Most instances of goo-ifications happen after a person has been thrown from their car or drowned in freezing water and are now lying in a coma while their family bickers about whether or not to pull the plug. It is rare to be in perfect health and feel its onset. The Wolfman’s greatest feature is that it can give any audience member this special, one of a kind feeling without any lasting damage. (This statement has not been assessed by the FDA.) The formula for temporary, reversible cognitive damage is (3 parts loud, overly dramatic, outdated, music) + (5 parts terrible theater-style acting) +(4 parts abysmal writing) + (2 parts embarrassingly bad wolfish visuals).
Benicio Del Toro’s acting in The Wolfman was the stuff of nightmares. Not the nightmare where a big, wild animal eats you or when someone you love turns into a monster. It is the far more frightening nightmare where a person with stage fright has to give a speech in front of a class and forgets to put on his pants. Del Toro is not frightening and does not portray deep or conflicted emotion. His performance could make a dead person uncomfortable.
Anthony Hopkins does nothing to assuage the misery Del Toro inflicts on the audience. In abysmal scene after abysmal scene, Hopkins manages to strip the audience of any potential interest in his character by making him as trite as possible.
Not that Del Toro and Hopkins are completely to blame; they were sucked into the black hole made when writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self rubbed against each other and their script imploded. Working together, they managed to word every line of the script in the least natural language possible. The plot, while complete, was full of shallow, meaningless moments. In the strain to make The Wolfman into cheesy goodness, Self and Walker just made Velveeta.
Ultimately, director Joe Johnston is to blame for the audience’s painful intellectual dismemberment. Johnston gives us three kinds of breaks from the insipid dialogue. The first is the meaningless visuals that show a costume or uninspiring scenery or extraordinarily obvious phase-of-the-moon shots that add nothing to the story arc or mood. Secondly, overly dramatic, vacuous montages take up nearly one third of the length of this never-ending film. Third, and most heinous, is the nearly unwatchable wolfman effects and characteristics.
The Wolfman takes most of its inspiration from the 1941 movie The Wolf Man—far too much inspiration. The phony looking wolf hair and masks could be forgiven in the 40s but is utterly unforgivable now. Many of the scenes shot in silhouette were supposed to showcase the creature’s claws, a decision that would have made sense only if Johnston was slow or stoned. Lastly, the actions of the wolfman don’t make any sense. He is feared because he is out of control, but he can still make rational decisions. He misses opportunities to kill and at other times kills at random. His nature is completely inexplicable.
Johnston’s bonus failure is the use of music. He offers the audience not a single moment without screeching violins and pounding piano keys. The more hyper-dramatic the music, the more it highlights the actors complete failure to impart any dramatic feeling.
I love a cheeky, cheesy movie as long as the writing is fun, the actors can pull off the characters with sincerity, and the director knows when to pull it back. The Wolfman has dreadful writing, the two main actors came up short, and Johnston—well, we really don’t need to go over that again, do we?