As the central figure in the new horror film The Wolfman, Lawrence Talbot has suffered through what you might call a rough life. He stumbled across his parents just after Dad brutally killed Mom in the middle of the night, was banished to an asylum before getting shipped to America from his posh English countryside home and now his brother has been eviscerated by a mysterious creature lurking in the woods outside his childhood home.
Determined to find, capture and kill whatever beast offed his brother, Lawrence has not only traveled back to his birthplace and its haunting memories, but now has to confront his father head-on for murdering his mother. And, of course, he has to ward off area townspeople who fear he's become a beastly “wolf man” himself after surviving a a vicious bite from the monster. Through it all, his primary battle is to maintain his strong sense of decency and underlying humanity from slipping away forever.
Sounds like a heady mix of action and emotions, doesn't it? Thankfully, The Wolfman largely delivers on its promises—particularly through the moving performance and powerfully expressive eyes of Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro (Traffic). Del Toro rebounds from a mostly hitless past decade to sink his teeth (pun fully intended) into the role of Lawrence Talbot and add genuine gravitas to a tragic character. It also features a strong, yet slightly oddball, performance from Anthony Hopkins, who has also suffered more than his share of box-office setbacks in the last few years. Hopkins digs into the role of Lawrence's father Sir John Talbot with the menacing glee of his famed Dr. Hannibal Lecter enjoying a dinner of Chianti and fava beans.
Rising star Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Young Victoria) is also on hand as the deceased brother's girlfriend who starts to fall for Lawrence. But, it is Hugo Weaving as Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline who nearly steals the show from everyone with his cocky cool, able athleticism and dryly sarcastic line readings.
The real stars of the show, however, are the technical armies behind the camera lens, who establish a fully realized world in which the film's rich and nearly incessant moonlight reveals stunning details of an expansive city in 1890, Victorian-era England. Special effects master Rick Baker, who won a Best Makeup Oscar for his work on the cult classic An American Werewolf in London back in 1981, puts del Toro through his gruesome transformations—including some foot and toe shots that will make you wish you hadn't ordered the jumbo size popcorn.
In an interesting touch, the clergy in the film are a bit hysterical in preparing their worried followers for each full moon, but are overall shown respectably, while del Toro is seen in prayer—complete with sign of the Cross—as he agonizes over his fate. Perhaps these brief Christian-friendly moments can be chalked up to the historic era of the film, but they are nice gestures to see nonetheless.
Add in a great, perfectly evocative offbeat-orchestra score by Danny Elfman, and some spectacular and gruesomely funny showdown scenes between the wolfman and his oppressors, and you'll find an entertaining film akin to 1999's Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration Sleepy Hollow: a film that may not terrify often, but is consistently tantalizing and fun to watch. Just be forewarned that the ample body counts include decapitations and the loss of many, many limbs among the townspeople; however, much of that bloody action is shot in enough shadow and with enough speed that it doesn't become too gross for enjoyment and ensures the film remains tasteful (this time, no pun intended).
The Wolfman marks not only a comeback and second chance for del Toro and Hopkins, but a great artistic leap forward for effects-whiz director Joe Johnston (Jumanji, October Sky, Jurassic Park III). Here's to hoping they use that second chance wisely.