Directed by: Joe Johnston || Produced by: Scott Stuber, Benicio del Toro, Rick Yorn, Sean Daniel
Screenplay by: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self || Starring: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Music by: Danny Elfman || Cinematography: Shelly Johnson || Edited by: Dennis Virkler, Walter Murch, Mark Goldblatt || Country: United States, United Kingdom || Language: English
Running Time: 102 minutes
The past nineteen years of superhero-movie ubiquity and decade-plus of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, 2008-present) dominance prompted major Hollywood studios to think of their next hackneyed, desperate cash-grab: Forming intricate, interconnected “cinematic universes” across multiple intellectual properties (IPs), spinoffs, and crossover features. Though the 2000s were perhaps best known for Hollywood’s unapologetic nostalgia indulgence via numerous family-friendly, watered-down remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of popular older titles, the 2010s worst aging fad remains studio executives’ sad attempts to copycat Walt Disney’s MCU formula with their own properties; these IPs include everything from Warner Bros’ DC Extended Universe (i.e. other comic titles) to Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse (i.e. the King Kong and Toho Godzilla IPs) to Universal Pictures’ updates of their classical horror monster series, also known as The Dark Universe.
These attempts feel unoriginal at best and downright pandering at worst, none more so than Universal Pictures’ pathetic attempt to revamp titles like Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Wolf Man (1941) into modern “action” titles like Dracula Untold (2014), The Mummy (2017), and The Wolfman (2010), respectively. Though not intended as the official launching pad of a contrived cinematic universe at the time (that was Dracula Untold’s, and later The Mummy’s cross to bare), Joe Johnston’s 2010 Wolfman established the stylistic failures that would be repeated in other doomed Universal monster-reboots to come. These failures include everything from lackluster pacing, bad editing, distracting computer generated imagery (CGI), miscast lead actors, and an inconsistent, wavering tone seesawing between dramatic horror and hardcore action. Let’s dive into this grisly, blood-soaked mess, shall we?
Most, if not all of The Wolfman’s problems grow clearer if one understands its troubled, chaotic production. Joe Johnston, the film’s last-minute replacement director, was brought into the production less than a month before principle photography, a production which would conclude two years later after months of reshoots, additional post-production digital FX, multiple re-edits, and changing film scores not once, but twice. As such, it’s no surprise that The Wolfman plays with the awkward, start-and-stop rhythm of a Suicide Squad (2016) or The Predator (2018); many scenes feel like they end at their midpoint, while crucial narrative revelations and character development are rushed or truncated.
Those crippling pacing issues are just the beginning of this film’s problems, however. The Wolfman’s hackneyed editing worsens the lackluster chemistry between male and female leads, Benecio del Toro and Emily Blunt, respectively, as well as the movie’s questionable tone. Del Toro is one of my favorite actors, but his character feels unable to convey anything other than confusion and awkward romance with Blunt, whose damsel in distress is almost as boring as her Tomb Raider-stereotype from Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Altogether, their unconvincing relationship is further undercut by the film’s choppy narrative progression and the aforementioned wavering tone, which alternates between Gothic horror, goofy action, and soap opera melodrama. This terrible combination leaves the film’s dramatic center hollow and unsatisfying.
Salting these wounds are several distracting, obvious CGI animations and blood squibs, which stand out from the understated, dour cinematography and period-setting like a sore thumb. While I appreciate the filmmakers’ dedication to adult-oriented violence, not censoring this movie-monster into oblivion like so many PG-13 remakes of R-rated films before it, The Wolfman’s blood and gore weakens the story because it is so artificial.
That all being said, The Wolfman has a few things going for it that make it an entertaining bad movie rather than just a plain bad movie. The digital transformations and beastly makeup of del Toro from man to wolfman are impressive, as is the overall wolfman design. These FX culminate in an absurdist, over-the-top brawl between del Toro and Anthony Hopkins’ antagonist, both of whom transform into wolfmen for the movie’s enjoyable finale. Also, Danny Elfman’s score is memorable and fits with the movie’s Gothic decor, despite almost not being included in the final cut.
Though Joe Johnston’s Wolfman was not the intentional start of Universal Studios’ ill fated “Dark Universe,” it set the tone for Universal’s multiple failed attempts at relaunching the studio’s fabled monster IPs; its box office bomb indicated these properties may not be as readily adaptable to modern action blockbusters as some would think. Timeless though these ghouls may be, if Universal’s recent track record is any indication, creatures like the Wolf Man, Dracula, and the Mummy are not going to compete with the likes of the MCU, The Fast and the Furious (2001-present), and other contemporary tentpole franchises on their terms. Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) thus far are the only successful classical monster reboots, and those swashbuckling fantasy-adventures share more in common with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) than Justice League (2017). Otherwise, cynical attempts to jerry-rig these IPs into something they’re not will inevitably lead to miscast stars (e.g. Benicio del Toro, Luke Evans, Tom Cruise, etc.), tonal whiplash, bad editing, and misguided special FX.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Edited into a rushed, tonally confused mess of a storyline, The Wolfman skimps on meaningful character development as well as emotional chemistry between starring actors Benecio del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Anthony Hopkins. The film also embraces shoddy digital FX and several goofy sequences that destabilize the film’s more interesting, foreboding undertones.
— However… The Wolfman has its heart in the right place, boasting convincing Gothic set-pieces and impressive set-designs, as well as a memorable score by veteran Danny Elfman. The final wolfman v. wolfman fight is worth a watch.
—> This dog is NOT RECOMMENDED. Down, boy.