A supposed mentally-ill man, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), is strapped to a chair in the center of a medical arena, surrounded by an audience of psychiatrists. As a full moon rises outside a window, the head shrink seeks to disprove the myth that his lycanthropy stricken patient will actually transform into a raging wolf.
Of course, the shrink is wrong. And we’re treated to state-of-the-art makeup effects, courtesy of six-time Oscar winner Rick Baker. Reminiscent of King Kong’s stage debut, the Talbot-wolfman breaks loose and runs roughshod in a 19th century English city. It’s a wild, exciting sequence with gore galore.
However, it is only one sequence. The remainder of “The Wolfman” update is slow and un-scary in an earnest effort to remain true to the Lon Chaney, Jr., 1941 original.
Despite the Director Joe Johnston’s stubborn attempt to follow the “wolfman” rules, bits of invention seep into the story, as in the aforementioned asylum scene. Another is thanks to Anthony Hopkins as the young Talbot’s father, Sir John, lord of the Blackmoor manor on the northern British countryside. Sir John adds a King Lear-ish element and Hannibal Lecter creepiness, continually pushing the film in unique directions, which he does with a much-needed twinkle in his eye.
A twinkle that should have been heeded by Del Toro, who plays it dead serious. While hardly an English aristocrat with his guff American accent, Del Toro’s Larry Talbot seems hairy enough for werewolf duties, but lacks the animal attraction for lost-soul love interest Gwen (Emily Blunt) to create a believable Beauty-and-the-Beast subplot. If only “The Wolfman” had start-with the asylum rampage, it may have broken new ground and sunk its teeth into something unique. As it is, one good scene does not a movie make.