In a previous post, I determined that The Happening edged Taking Lives as the worst movie that I had seen in the first decade of this millennium, and moving forward, I’m proud—or saddened—to announce that I have a front runner for the worst movie I will see in the next ten years.
Just to put this in perspective, I would rather let a blind woman with cold, shaky hands shave my crotch with a rusty trowel than watch this movie again.
Historically, most February movies have not been Oscar contenders, or even movies that you would want to see more than a handful of times—and most often when you did, it would be in snippets on Cinemax or HBO. Being aware of this, I entered The Wolfman merely expecting a fun movie, perhaps even with a few moments that could make me jump, about a man who is bitten by a werewolf and subsequently bites the heads off of live chickens and has an insatiable urge to hump everything during a full moon. Unfortunately, the word I chose to focus on was fun—which The Wolfman most certainly is not.
It’s also not entertaining, cohesive, or suspenseful.
Granted, werewolves aren’t the most complex of mythic creatures to grace the screen. The affliction comes from the bite of another werewolf and the transformation takes place for a few hours once a month, usually leaving the afflicted person unable to remember the violence he committed. Thus, some semi-plausible story needs to be woven in—see Teen Wolf’s focus on teenage angst and basketball with the occasional need to rub calamine on a bout of mange.
Unfortunately, the story within The Wolfman is poorly executed and extremely confused. While there is an attempted homage to the 1941 original, the current version lacks tension and charisma. Like the original, the protagonist Larry/Lawrence Talbot returns to Europe upon the death of his brother and is soon bitten by a werewolf which infects him with the transformative disease.
In the original, Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) kills the original werewolf to protect a young woman, but he is bitten in the struggle. In newest version, Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) is merely attacked, and the assailant escapes into the forest. This isn’t a poor variation, but it leads the audience on a path of silliness and a predictable showdown with the alpha werewolf—who happens to be Lawrence’s father John Talbot, a performance phoned in by Anthony Hopkins (I’m choosing to drop the Sir from this one).
Note: You read that correctly. The Welsh Hopkins plays the father to the Puerto Rican Del Toro. If these two actors weren’t Oscar winners who each had moments of stardom, this wouldn’t matter, but we know who these men are, and suspension of disbelief is difficult when knowledge is present with a gong. In the same vein, the “Welsh” Lawrence’s accent is obviated with the simple explanation that “he spent some time in the Americas.”
In addition to the CGI-werewolf showdown—which makes the CGI wolves on the battleship from The Day After Tomorrow look like the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park—we learn that John Talbot also killed his wife in a werewolfian rage, one that Lawrence was witness to, but blocked out, thus resulting in his stay at an asylum; a love story also materializes between Lawrence and Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), his dead brother’s wife, who is somehow the only one that can save Lawrence, though I’m sure anyone could shoot him with a silver bullet. Ostensibly, these are venial sins in a horror movie, but the audience learns of these things just about as quickly as you’ve read them on this screen, which suffocates any character development or logical connection between scenes.
For example, after Lawrence has been bitten and sewn up, the speculation swirls that he is infected, so he seeks guidance from his father, who subsequently locks him in a cell in their basement as the full moon appears outside. Somehow—and I say this because John Talbot clearly bolts the door—Lawrence escapes, disembowels a few people, and wakes up at dawn covered in blood. John Talbot stands over him and scolds him, saying “You’ve done a bad thing Lawrence. You’ve done terrible things!” At this moment, I was nearly expecting John to pull out a rolled-up newspaper and whack Lawrence on the nose before rubbing his nose in someone’s entrails.
What seems to be soon after, though logistically it must be at least a month, Lawrence is back in an asylum and showcased to an audience on the night of a full moon. Of course, the wispy clouds that obscure the moon drift away and Lawrence changes once again, this time killing a few skeptics and escaping into the Welsh countryside, where he somehow wanders—with repaired clothing a newly donned hat—for another month that races by at mercurial speed.
Luckily, the third act begins, and Scotland Yard Detective Abberline (Hugo Weaving), who occasionally pops on screen to show us that someone is chasing Lawrence, enters a bar with a sixth sense that “he will come.” Well, why? Aside from a sophomore screenwriting class, how does he know this?
This is also conveniently where the aforementioned love connection materializes: as Lawrence traipses around Wales, he declares that Gwen is the “only one that can help him.” Again, why? Luckily, as darkness descends, Gwen shows up on a white horse—I shit you not, a white horse.
From this point on, the smell of kielbasa wafted into the theater, so my memory is a bit foggy, but Gwen “sets him free” by shooting him through the heart. What might be most spectacularly and viciously ridiculous about The Wolfman is that it ends with what might be the most elementary-school-like depiction of death to appear on celluloid since film became an art. Harsh? Probably, but deserving. Del Toro falls into Blunt’s lap, and with his final breath—which, aside from a voice over that reaffirms the power of “true love,” is the last line of the movie— releases a “blaaaagh” as if I was actually listening to the $12.50 cents disappearing from my checking account.
DYL MAG Score: -3