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A Wolf...Man?

Movie Title: The Wolfman (2010)
Spoilers: none

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I can remember being taken to the store with mom for Halloween shopping. Candy corns were the first things thrown into the basket. Next up were the candy pumpkins. Then, it was over to the toy isle to get a new set of what I bought the year before and always managed to lose—a set of wolf fingers with claws.

I would yank the bag off the shelf and quickly stash it underneath some other groceries mom got. She would always see them at the check-out counter before it came time to pay, but she never made me put them back...except once.

You play wolfman for a few years and then something happens. Time catches up with you and makes some adjustments to your mental hardware. Suddenly, playing wolfman is not only not fun anymore, but it starts to bother you the more you think about the concept. So, you quit thinking about it, unless you happen to be a hopeless analytic. If not, you just quit playing and that's the end of it. 

To every hopeless analytic, the concept of a “wolfman” shouldn't be scary, just a bit odd. A wolf is an effective hunting primate, but a man is a weak hunter without the aid of tools. Man's upright posture makes him slow, weak, and vulnerable to almost any attack from any beast in the wild. So what good is a wolfman?

Aside from the human brain, the human body only takes from the wolf advantage. The weaknesses of the human part would make it a trade-off that counts against any effectiveness the merger could have. And let's just ask: what good would a “wolfman” be over a stock bear or a lion? Physically speaking, nothing I can think of.

But start talking magic and that changes things. That's where 2010's The Wolfman comes through. Directed by Joe Johnston, The Wolfman features a tale of full moons, curses, biblical scriptural appeals, and a cast with much talent. Anthony Hopkins and (an arguably miscast) Benicio Deltoro are estranged father and son in 19th century London. The recreation is fabulous, down to the old wood and the dense fog.

Lawrence Talbot (Deltoro) gets word in America that his brother Ben (Simon Merrells) has been mysteriously slaughtered. No one has a clue who or what could have done it. He heads back home to London to assist his father Sir John Talbot (Hopkins). There, he discovers some unpleasant truths about the family and the place he once called home.

It is said that King Nebuchadnezzar was cursed to eat grass like an ox and dwelt outdoors, with long hair as a beast-like man (Daniel 4:24-37). Pious worship houses can be seen, led by preachers reading these verses from the Bible and preaching sermons from the glow of candle light with application made to the curse, “the mark of the beast” spoken of in Revelation 13 and 14, laid upon the condemned. When God's curse is upon you, the devil damns your soul and turns your body into that of a beast. Nice touch. Unwilling physical transformation instills the most disturbing kind of fright.

It is not the CGI or the would-be impressive special effects that enhance what previous generations could never give the Wolfman. The use of this technology in by-now cheapening quantities goes way beyond enhancing the action to actually shutting out the more mature members of the audience who want something more than seeing a tooth-and-claw hay-day of a ravaging man-beast. But there is more, if just a little.

It is the story's clever tie-in with biblical symbolism, with potential vigilante riots, fearful townspeople, inquisitive Scotland Yard detectives, and a medieval asylum for the insane, where the most grueling and sadistic levels of inhumane treatment are seen; these are the pluses in this minus of a fanged film of fury, with it's chilling howls that may have you experiencing a shiver or two.

This rebirth of Wolfman makes him much like the Hulk and is perhaps not above being called a rip-off of Hulkian CGI feats. There is the added dimension to Wolfman's capabilities. That gives more room for action, of which there is plenty. It's fun to watch, but you've seen it before if you've been watching action movies in the 2000s. What more is there?

Wolfman is an artful picture, but the fate of Lawrence’s mother is never sold to the audience. John Talbot’s conniving behavior is hard to accept with regard to the direction the character is taken. Dr. Hoenneger (Anthony Sher) is a one-sided doctor, a hollow intellectual intended to appear cruel, consumed in the pride of his 19th century psychiatric convictions. The audience never gets ready for the family drama or the indifferent shrink who will do nothing but provide Wolfman with a public forum from which to emerge and show off his full moon-supplied powers.

There's nothing really that impressive about seeing two “wolf-ified” men slashing up each other or a town. But we demand more, even from movies intended to showcase a monster with claws that can tear apart a man as quick as Predator. Don't compare Predator and Wolfman. Predator had a plot that left its mark of fascination on the audience. Wolfman is a brutish bitch-slap of special effects, cradled with artsy but mostly lifeless direction.

The Wolfman is not a bad re-creation in the old lycanthropic spirit that saturated Wolfman of generations gone by, but it will not sail into the harbor of history as an iconic film. It is, of a truth, mostly forgettable, as it will do nothing but occupy several open hours by providing entertainment for college freshmen and hopeless horror buffs. It begins just as it ends—with a muffled growl and those petrifying howls.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R (for gore and violent death)
Director: Joe Johnston
Summary: A play actor returns to England to find the cause of his brother's death, only to walk into the deadly path of a wolfman.
Starring: Simon Merrells "Ben Talbot," Gemma Whelan "Gwen's Maid," Emily Blunt "Gwen Conliffe," Benicio Del Toro "Lawrence Talbot," Mario Marin-Borquez "Young Lawrence," Hugo Weaving "Inspector Abberline," Asa Butterfield "Young Ben," Dr. Hoenneger “Anthony Sher,” Cristina Contes "Solana Talbot," Anthony Hopkins "Sir John Talbot"
Genre: Fantasy / Thriller / Horror
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