Over-or-Under - 'The Wolfman' (2010)
"Over-or-Under" explores films that we think are either over or under-rated. Obviously we don't expect everyone to agree with the opinions laid out here, but that's the fun of it! We would love for these reviews to spark discussions about movies that get too much love or too much hate. Suggestions for future "Over-or-Under" reviews are also very much welcome, so long as our opinions fall in the same line.
For me, Joe Johnston's 'The Wolfman' remake is one of the most under-rated films in recent memory. This flick has so much going for it that I feel was overlooked. On Rotten tomatoes 'The Wolfman' sports a not-good 34% with an even lower audience score of 33%. Critics and audiences mostly took issue with Del Toro's performance and lambasted the film for being an unnecessary remake. I can agree with some of the criticisms, but I don't think they cripple the film in any way.
The film centers around Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro). Talbot does not seem to be a compelling character when we're first introduced to him. I, just like others, was baffled by his seemingly dull performance in this film. However, after paying closer attention I figured out that there's more to him than that. I liked seeing the stark contrast between his human form and his feral form. From my point of view, the wolf was always inside him even before he got bit. I could see it behind his eyes, and when he finally became the wolf, it seemed like a much-needed release of all of his frustrations. There's a subtlety about Benicio Del Toro's performance that I love. Sure, the dialogue is pretty wooden, but his expressions and mannerisms say very much about what he's thinking. I also believe it was Johnston's intention to make his interactions with people awkward; he's a reclusive character and conversation seems a chore for him.
Let me address the other common criticism. The one that suggests that this is an unnecessary remake. All remakes are pretty much unnecessary. I'm actually a firm believer that the only films that need to be remade are the ones that had a good idea but botched it the first time. Tell that story again and get it right. However, I also think classic stories deserve re-telling. No, they're not necessary, but who doesn't like experiencing great stories more than once? I know I sure as heck do.
Touching on the story itself; the film does start off a bit slow, I'll give the critics that. There's a terrifying, yet short scene at the beginning where an unidentified creature slaughters a man in the woods. The victim turns out to be Lawrence Talbot's brother. Meanwhile, Lawrence Talbot is giving a very awkward performance in a play. He receives word of his death through a letter from his brother's fiance, Gwen Conliffe played by Emily Blunt. The plot starts to pick up steam when he reaches Talbot manor and has his first interaction with his father, Sir John Talbot. Anthony Hopkins plays this character perfectly, and almost elevates Benicio Del Toro's performance because you start to see why the Talbot's are so odd, reclusive...and f***ing creepy. Sir John Talbot essentially justifies the long, sullen silences of Lawrence Talbot's character that we've been treated to thus far that I had originally deemed as questionable acting. Gwen, for some reason is drawn to the Talbots; she's not a particularly memorable character, but she certainly doesn't detract from the proceedings. Gwen also becomes a necessary plot device that makes her a little more interesting down the road.
The story picks up steam when Talbot visits a gypsy camp to investigate a dancing bear some suspect might have been responsible for the killing. The authorities also show up under the same suspicion. Out of nowhere the true culprit makes his appearance, and completely ravages the campsite and a good chunk of its inhabitants. This is when I knew that this was my type of horror flick. From this point on it had already earned points for being a traditional period piece, and for being shot very well. At this moment I realized that this film would not be pulling any punches. The action sequences are as horrifying and as violent as you would imagine a werewolf encounter might be. This thing is absolutely brutal. Decapitations, dangling intestines, spurts of blood, gore and body parts flying in all directions. Nothing in this film is off-limits. At this point I realized just how ballsy this film was. It's a $150 million production, it's rated-R, violent as all hell and it's a horror period piece film.
Anyhow, during the slaughter Talbot is bitten and thus cursed. His wounds heal unnaturally quickly. All the killings near Talbot manor attract the attention of the authorities, led by Inspector Aberline, who after meeting Lawrence Talbot, suspects him as a possible culprit. Inspector Aberline is played by the always-likable Hugo Weaving. Weaving adds a bit of levity to the proceedings, which up until now had a few too many dour, brooding personalities. This is also where Lawrence Talbot becomes a very compelling character as he starts to experience bodily changes. I also admired that his transition was depicted in a very realistic way, unlike the fantastical antics that Vlad the Impaler went through in his transformation into Dracula in 'Dracula Untold' (though I sort of enjoyed that movie too, but that's for another time).
Talbot is locked in an asylum by Aberline's men after he has his first outburst and kills a group of hunters. This action sequence revealed an up-close look at what the wolf man looks like. I love, love, love the use of practical costumes here, sure there's CG when they show the actual transformation, but the costume here is very-much a nod to the classic wolf man, only much more feral and more realistic. This is in great part to Joe Johnston's attention to detail; every aspect of this film seems hand-crafted with care.
Later on in the Asylum, John Talbot visits Lawrence to confess that he is the other werewolf and that he killed his mother and brother. This was an expected reveal, but it was effectively done and I honestly haven't seen Anthony Hopkins come across this effectively sinister since playing Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs'. We then have the only instance of obvious CG-usage in the form of Lawrence's transformation in front of a group of on-lookers in the asylum. It really didn't bother me all that much though, there were still aspects of the transformation that were really well done. The use of gore here is almost comically over-the-top. I love when Johnston gives a wink-and-a-nod to the audience during a moment of silence amidst the chaos. The wolfman has a huge slab of human meat hanging out of his mouth as he eyes his next victim, he lets it drop to the marble floor with a comically effective "slap" and then lunges. Then there's a really fun sequence where the wolfman escapes from the city, causing complete mayhem and many casualties. It's a visually stunning sequence that was one of the film's definite highlights. I don't care who you are, if this sequence doesn't make you happy, I don't know what could.
Now the finale is another thing critics and viewers alike took issue with. It features the face off between both wolfmen, father and son. A good chunk of people found this fight to be goofy and hokey. I found it to be f***ing awesome. This was just the kind of no-holds-barred brawl I wanted to see. It's still grounded somewhat in reality but is also cheerfully over-the-top at times. Plus, the mansion is burning around them, adding a really engaging visual aesthetic to the fight. Lawrence Talbot ultimately decapitates father wolf and escapes the burning confines of the mansion. The film then ends when the Wolfman hunts down Gwen and corners her at a ledge. She is finally able to get through to him and he refrains from killing her. Gwen reluctantly shoots him and he slowly changes back and dies in her arms.
I found the ending to be perfect honestly. They didn't pander to modern day audiences and give us a happy ending. The film ends the way it should; with Talbot ultimately dying. He's a tragic character and you feel for him even though he's caused so much death, it was completely beyond his control.
Other than having good actors and a compelling story, there's a lot more to be praised about this film. I've said it before and I'll say it again: this film has an excellent visual aesthetic. This is something that is pretty much director Joe Johnston's trademark. All of his movies might not be great, but each and every one of them just look good, and this one is certainly no slouch. Everything thing from the scenery to the makeup and costumes just looks perfect. This is probably the one aspect of the film that critics and I can agree on. I just happen to think there's more to this movie than just it's lavish visuals.
Seriously, what's not to love here? How in the hell does this only have a 34% approval rating? I just don't get it. Now I'm not going to go out into the streets and proclaim it's a masterpiece, but what I will say is that it's certainly a competent film that deserves another look. Oh, and if you decide you do want to give this film another shot or haven't seen it at all, watch the unrated version; it's not vastly different, but the first hour is a little more cohesive and natural than the version we got in theaters.
Please do comment below and tell me your opinions on the film. Did you like it? Hate it? Or did it simply dissipate like a fart in the wind after you saw it? If you haven't seen it and end up watching the film, come back and share your thoughts. Also don't forget to post suggestions for future "Over-or-Under" reviews.
Written by Rhys Paine on 8/4/2016