As Universal Studios has updated each of their monster pictures over the past decade, they've necessarily changed them from pure horror films into more spectacular fare. The Mummy films have become more and more action-heavy, as was Van Helsing, although that one also buried itself in a steaming pile of camp. And while The Wolfman has its action scenes, it mostly hews very close to its classic horror roots, by which I mean that the story is fairly predictable and packed with cliches and cheap scares. However, since a scary mask isn't enough to scare anybody these days, the gore level has been elevated to match current audience tastes. This movie is rated "R" for a reason.
The brutal violence is a lot of what makes the movie so enjoyable. After all, the movie is mostly a remake of the 1941 original, with the same main character, the same superstitious villagers and the same traveling band of gypsies. Actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns home after a long absence to find his brother has been found horribly mutilated, and he promises his sister-in-law (Emily Blunt) he'll find the killer. His father (Anthony Hopkins) is a former big-game hunter who can't seem to catch the monster with his one dog, but when Lawrence goes to see the gypsies, the creature slaughters a dozen of them, biting Lawrence before being driven off. The rest of the movie diverges from the original pretty radically, bringing the now-murderous Lawrence into the heart of London before sending him back to the countryside.
Benicio Del Toro does a passable job, and his extended stay with Spanish relatives in America explains his absent English accent and his wavering American one. Anthony Hopkins is as great, playing a lively old man who'll shoot you for trespassing as soon as look at you, but Emily Blunt doesn't really do much but look vulnerable all the time. Hugo Weaving, however, is up to his normal Agent Smith awesomeness as the Scotland Yard inspector who not only suspects Lawrence of the wolf killings early on, but also of being Jack the Ripper, a case he was never able to close. His arrival partway into the film is when the movie starts to feel more modernized, and not like an attempt to exactly mimic an older movie.
The wolfman make-up effects in the movie are by Rick Baker, so they're pretty flawless, and the look of the wolfman is a nice homage to the original character. (His famous silver-headed cane prop also pops up regularly throughout the picture.) The transformation sequences are all computer-generated, and while they're certainly top-notch, they can occasionally be a little distracting. And as I mentioned before, the gore is constant: heads are torn off, jaws are pierced with claws, livers are torn out, etc. However, it's good to see a horror franchise relaunched as a horror franchise, and not a theme park ride.
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