There was probably a way to make this movie, and that way was not like this.
The Wolfman (2010) is a remake of a Universal Studios classic monster movie, and follows Lawrence Talbot as he becomes a werewolf. The classic is beloved because it’s a classic moreso than because it’s good, and this movie is also not very good.
This review is going to have spoilers for The Wolfman remake, so keep an eye out for that.
Basically the plot of the movie is that Benicio del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot has to go home to his family’s mouldering English estate because his brother has been murdered by a werewolf, and in totally unrelated news, his dad, played by Anthony Hopkins, is creepy. In investigating his brother’s death, Talbot also becomes a werewolf, murders a bunch of people, gets put in a mental asylum, murders some more people, then goes home to kill his werewolf dad in a CGI fight that results in Emily Blunt killing him. Also Hugo Weaving is there playing Frederick Abberline as portrayed by Hugo Weaving, which is pretty cool.
I love Hugo Weaving; he plays the exact same character in every movie he’s in and he’s always really good. He’s such an interesting actor because you’d think it would get boring to watch him be Hugo Weaving, but even in a movie like this that kind of sucks, he stays compelling, which is impressive. I contrast this with Anthony Hopkins, who is also a really good actor who plays the same character in every movie, but in this (and in a lot of movies), he’s kind of boring to watch because the character he’s playing isn’t that interesting and he and the script are relying more on the presence of Anthony Hopkins than anything else, and I think that’s too bad. His character was transparently evil for the whole movie until he was revealed to be the villain, but the revelation wasn’t revelatory because it just sort of happened, and the transparency wasn’t transparent enough, resulting in an overall lacklustre character arc that ended with him being on fire and getting his head chopped off. When the bad CGI is the most noteworthy thing about your character, that’s a problem for both the actor and the writer.
I think the writing is definitely what does this movie a disservice. It’s really pedestrian, really uninspired. I think they were trying to go for something like the atmosphere of the first movie (also pretty pedestrian), but what ended up happening was an overreliance on the movie’s famous actors and famous characters and gothic atmosphere and no actual effort being put into making it interesting, which is too bad. That should have been a winning combination and might well have been if like, anyone involved had cared enough to do it right.
It’s so easy to make gothic aesthetics spooky and compelling, and the movie’s director just didn’t try. The cinematography is really boring throughout this movie; they’ve got all these awesome expensive filming locations and sets and they’re just sort of sitting there instead of being a meaningful part of any of the shots, and it feels like a big waste, and also you don’t care when it all lights on fire at the end of the movie. There’s way too much music, which was apparently a problem when they were scoring the movie and had to cut its length (it’s still too long), and ended up with music that filled the movie from start to finish and left no room for quiet parts. But then they tried to get another composer and his score was even worse, so they just used the super busy score and it’s really not helping the atmosphere at all. You can’t breathe when you’re watching this movie because it never pauses to let you take a breath, and not in a good way.
One of the biggest problems with the old Universal Studios movies is that they haven’t aged well in terms of things like racial politics and the representation of female characters. It’s really incumbent on someone who’s remaking a classic like that to update it in those ways so that the story still works but without being racist. This movie fails to accomplish that by having one female character who is the main character’s love interest, and having much of the plot rely on the idea that Romani people have access to tribal magical rituals and knowledge, and also that there are mystical things living in Tibet. Also, in the original film, Talbot is a heavily Jewish-coded character, and there’s a long history of associating werewolves with Jewish people, but in this movie they’ve done away with that and Talbot is no longer Jewish-coded, which is hard to read as anything other than “he’s the hero now, so he can’t be Jewish,” especially since there are obviously Jewish characters in the movie, and they’re evil, like the Sigmund Freud rip-off who tries to psychoanalyse Talbot’s lycanthropy away without using any actual Freudian theory (to be fair the movie ostensibly takes place pre-Freud) before being eaten by Talbot. So yeah, it’s a bad look and really makes it feel like the people making this had no idea what kind of story they were actually telling.
There’s also a decent amount of CGI in the movie and it’s pretty bad, way more bad than I’d have expected for 2010. The makeup effects are pretty good, though I do wonder why the werewolves’ mouths are open all the time. Seems like a weird choice. There were a lot of weird choices in this movie, and most of them were just that the people in decision-making jobs all made the decision to be boring instead of good.
I really like werewolf movies a lot and so I was hoping that this would be better than I’d heard people saying it was. And it was—it’s not the worst movie ever or anything. But it was really boring and pointless, and it had no sense of its own politics, story or aesthetic, and no idea what to do with its stellar sets, cast and music. Universal is wanting to set up an MCU-style shared universe with all its classic monsters in reboots, and you can feel that here in all the bad ways. It comes off as super focus-grouped and cookie-cutter because they wanted it to be as mainstream as possible, and that just took away everything that could have been good about it. It’s just all around a huge case of what could have been, and that made me a bit sad.
Side note, but why is actual historical person Frederick Abberline in this movie? He’s famous for being one of the cops involved in investigating Jack the Ripper, and for some reason he’s become this pop culture figure that gets used in Jack the Ripper stories, which is itself weird. This isn’t even a Jack the Ripper movie, so why did they want…
Hold on. He got turned into a werewolf at the end. They were going to make a sequel where he was Jack the Ripper, weren’t they? There could have been a movie where werewolf Hugo Weaving was Jack the Ripper, guys. But The Wolfman sucked so bad that it killed that. Goddammit.