“The Wolfman” cannot help but to be compared to its 1941 predecessor “The Wolf Man.” The original suffered many contrivances that never fit well into the plot: an incidental romance, an oddly estranged father and a mysterious trip home to reconcile for no apparent reason; a convenient band of gypsies, and a night of bad luck for the main character involving getting bitten by and transformed into a werewolf.
Although that film may be the originator of much of the werewolf legend as it is known in the 21st century (silver bullets, transformation by the light of the full moon, etc.), it left much to be desired in the way of cohesive writing. But that’s not the case for the remade version that recently hit theaters.
“The Wolfman” is a cleverly written movie, tying all of the loose ends of the plot together much better than the original. This time there is a reason for Lawrence Talbot’s (Benicio Del Toro, “Che: Part One & Two”) return: he has come home to investigate his brother’s murder. A romance blossoms between him and his brother’s widowed fiancé, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt, “The Young Victoria”), and it becomes quickly apparent there is a much deeper mystery behind the estrangement with his father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins, “Beowulf”).
The story might still seem a bit fractured at first glance in terms of the release of background information, but there is a better mystery woven through the backbone of this movie, and the piecemeal delivery serves a purpose.
Director Joe Johnston uses this same visual approach in his dream scenes. It might seem choppy and chaotic, but it is as unsettling and broken as the mind of the main character after he stumbles into his curse. Those nightmare sequences are perhaps some of the best visuals in the movie, aside from the terrific CGI shots of old London during a chase scene that include iconic shots of the werewolf howling at the full moon.
But while the film modernizes the plot, the director never deprives the viewer of that classic horror film feeling.
The setting alone conveys a creepy mood, with plenty of shots in the fog and dusk, if not at night itself. Everything is dark right down to the muted colors of costume and sets.
But nothing is darker than the plot itself.
Here is a truly tormented man with one of the worst fathers ever to appear in cinema. Hopkins plays the role of the father flawlessly and with such flare that he creates yet another perfect villain. Del Toro is also a wonderful fit for the cursed role, his face working seamlessly with the transformation into the classic wolf man.
And it is here in the wolf man’s appearance that there is no update where there could have been. The make-up and the physical appearance of the wolf man is the exact same. It looks more realistic and the transformation scenes are better done than the first film, but the end result is loyal to its original form.
Although the romance still seems a bit rushed, “Wolfman” as a whole is wonderfully complete. It fills in the gaps of the original and adds more merit and background to the tale that was sadly lacking. Viewers looking for a classic horror story will not be disappointed.