Normally when the decision is made to remake a horror classic, it is assumed that the new version will play bigger, faster, gorier and more in-your-face. And the result is almost always that the original, with its deeper characters and richer atmosphere, was much more effective. Now with The Wolfman, which is the official Universal Pictures remake of The Wolf Man (1941), director Joe Johnston and screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self have attempted to retain some of that old-time spooky atmosphere and character development. Along with, you know, some extra severing, spattering and scattered entrails. Unfortunately, the gore is now the most exciting part; the other stuff somehow just lies there, without ever inviting us in.
Benicio Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, the man who accidentally picks up the curse of the werewolf while roaming the English moors of the 1890s, trying to determine the cause of his brother’s death. Del Toro shares the sad, soulful eyes of Lon Chaney Jr., and it looks for a while as if the filmmakers are going to follow Chaney’s example (perhaps even going so far as to base the character partly on the real Chaney’s life). But soon Del Toro pitches in his own badass coolness, and the tormented vulnerability of Chaney’s version melts away. Unfortunately, even with Emily Blunt playing the girl, Gwen Conliffe (Lawrence’s brother’s fiancée), the new role is just as underwritten as the old one was. There is no equivalent of the Bela Lugosi part, and though the old gypsy woman is now played by Geraldine Chaplin, her involvement in the story is now just cursory, rather than essential.
The new monster design derives largely from the original film, and the new film even opens on original screenwriter Curt Siodmak’s nifty little poem about wolf men. It’s not as if the new movie is overly faithful, but it does seem somehow restrained and tentative, as if unsure which direction to move in: More gore or more shadows? More jump scares or more dialogue? If the point of the original idea was to explore man’s intellect, his animal nature and the unknown bridge in between, the new movie doesn’t seem to understand the difference.