Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is an actor on the Victorian stage, but his home is in America and he is merely visiting Britain to conduct a tour there. However, his roots are British as he is the estranged son of Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), who still resides in the North of England family mansion, and one evening after offering a theatre his Hamlet, Lawrence is visited by Gwen (Emily Blunt), the fiancée of his brother. She has bad news for him: his brother has been brutally killed by what appears to have been a wild animal, and she thinks he should really return home for the funeral...
He would have been better keeping up the estranged part of his family relationships, as you can tell from the title what will happen to him when he ventures back. Considering what some remakes do to their source material, this reimagining of the old Lon Chaney Jr semi-classic was remarkably faithful, even if it did open out the story as concessions to an audience expecting far more special effects and action than the original provided, but was that enough to supplant it in the minds of those who liked, even loved, those old Universal horror movies of the Golden Age? The answer, judging by the poor returns this received, would appear to have been no.
The main problem was that while they remained respectful to the basic plotline of the 1941 effort, what they did add did not do much for the qualities that they hoped to carry over: the tragedy, the ominous mood, that sense of an ancient mythology that had been pretty much made up by the scriptwriter Curt Siodmak, yet felt authentic enough to be used in many of the werewolf works that followed in its footsteps. What it did have was the predictable computer graphics which stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the Victorian setting, and an uncertain pacing that could not make up its mind whether it was aiming for the mean and moody or the rollercoaster ride.
Del Toro was a fan of the Lon Chaney Jr movie, and had been attached to star for the years that it took this to be finally completed, a production that could best be described as troubled and involving differences of opinion about what it was exactly they were making here. He is a little lost in the period trappings, not to mention the confusion of themes that erupt from the first ten minutes - was this about anti-gypsy racism? Lawrence's daddy issues? A simple doomed romance? They never quite made up their mind. Once our uneasily undynamic hero arrives home he finds his father diffident (Hopkins introduces so many bits of business in his eccentric performance he verges on the unruly) and the locals suspicious.
Unlike the Bela Lugosi character of the forties, we are not meant to be aware who the werewolf is until a big revelation at the two-thirds mark, but if you haven't worked it out then it's not as if there haven't been clues scattered throughout, making one of those themes groaningly obvious and heavy-handed (or heavy pawed). There are hints of something more interesting here, such as Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) of the Jack the Ripper case showing up to investigate, but what the film suffered from was not too many ideas, more an uncertainty of what to do with them. Rick Baker's werewolf makeup was predictably excellent, but it would have been better wed to a movie with a stronger notion of what it wanted to be, with even an interlude for its monster to undertake what looked like An American Werewolf in Victorian London that added little except a dose of "told you so" to the establishment. A curious mixture of cliché and awkward modern stylings, this Wolfman exposed its problematic history, alas. Music by Danny Elfman.