Universal’s “The Wolfman” has always been another of the great horror movies that fans have secretly wanted to see remade for the modern era but only for morbid curiosity. We’re a fickle bunch, but the fact is that “The Wolfman” has been a long time coming mainly because we’ve seen countless adaptations of Universals banner monsters but never the Wolfman. We came close with the stellar “Wolf,” but that wasn’t an actual remake. Joe Johnston creates what I can define as a rather above par remake, one that really pays respect to the classic monster movies and horror movie tropes while also cutting its own path in to the mythos. While I’ll agree with many that the movie isn’t a masterpiece, it certainly is a cut above all the rest of the remakes in the market and dabbles in excellence more often than not.
While some scoff at the meandering in to a murder mystery mid-way I found the sub-plot to be about as relevant as the rest of the movie because “The Wolf Man” delves in to the psyche of a man with his own personal demons faced with a past he was never actually sure of even in to his thirties. Throughout the film this Lawrence Talbot makes an effort to completely disown and forget his past which involves a mysterious murder, a distant cold father, and a rocky relationship with his brother. He’s abandoned his life in exchange for decadence and wealth in a cushion of apathy involving diatribes on stage plays where he makes his living as an actress. It’s only until Gwen comes to his door begging for his help when he can actually step out of his bubble and go back in to the depths of his misery and learn things about his memories and past that were foggy and painful.
“The Wolfman” is very much a father and son tale, one about a son forced to confront his pain, while his father plays an instrument in helping him embrace his demons with gusto and zeal. Rather than the father being the last remaining shred of sanity in his son’s life as in the original, Lawrence’s dad is apart of the sadness that casts a shadow over his life, thus he must deal with his mother’s death, his brother’s grizzly mutilation, and staring down the mysterious monster that hides in the woods during a full moon. During a horrific and gruesome rampage from the beast, Lawrence is bitten in the shoulder and given the mark of the beast coming to grips with a terrible curse bestowed upon him that transforms him in to a merciless swift monster prone to maiming and murdering innocent bystanders and hunters wandering in the forests.
Rick Baker’s make up effects are about as remarkable as ever giving way to a new design for the wolf man that’s respectable to Chaney’s original mold, while also adding a darker more demonic gleam that makes him a monster to be petrified of. It’s amazing at times what Baker has done with the Wolf Man for the modern age. He’s always foaming at the mouth, always heaving his chest, and acts as an animal would whenever attacking or on the defensive. The performances are quite top notch with Hugo Weaving and Anthony Hopkins giving strong portrayals along with Emily Blunt who is the angelic Gwen.
Benicio Del Toro fits in this period piece perfectly with a man filled with apathy who can only express desires in the flesh of the monster. Meanwhile director Johnston doesn’t shy away from the carnage providing some incredible and disturbing scenes of the wolfman tearing his way through a bus, murdering a pack of hunters, and galloping along roof tops. The entire transformation is of course a metaphor for his personal torment coming to the surface, and he must soon figure out a way to end his torment, or embrace it and become pure evil. Johnston is never afraid to stretch his legs with the narrative allowing for some dashes of fantasy and whimsy along with wild hallucinations from Talbot who is taken in to a sanitarium after his first rampage.
Johnston examines this small meandering by explaining that perhaps this wolf transformation is half a curse and half Talbot’s own psychoses and trauma. “The Wolfman” for what it promises is a much more intelligent and complex movie than it looks combining a great murder mystery, some introspection, and fantastic monster movie madness for fans who can appreciate it all, and I enjoyed it as a companion piece to the superior original. Working wonders as a partner to the original, Joe Johnston pleases immensely with an intelligent, scary, and gory monster movie that works on many levels of creativity and originality while also remembering its roots firmly planted in the Universal legacy where Lon Chaney once roamed. I loved it.