The wolf (Benecio Del Toro), the wolf, the wolf is on fire in the pretty, but empty remake of "The Wolfman".

The wolf (Benecio Del Toro), the wolf, the wolf is on fire in the pretty, but empty remake of "The Wolfman".

It is monsterdom’s Jan Brady to vampirism’s Marsha.

While considered one of the “classic” monsters, the Wolfman has clearly lost the PR battle with dear old Drac. But face it, being a vampire is just flat out more appealing that being a werewolf. Vampires represent repressed sexuality while werewolves represent the destructive impulses of the id.

Sex or destruction. It’s a pretty easy choice.

Not that there haven’t been attempts to make werewolves cooler or more appealing, but in the end, they fall prey to the usual flaws. One, a werewolf is a straight up killing machine: there are no cool clothes, trendy clubs or slick seductions.  Two, they’re monsters only about three days out of the month – how scary is that? Granted, I had a girlfriend like that once, but I digress.

“The Wolfman” is the latest attempt to revive the lowly lycanthrope in a way that doesn’t involved overly-ripped teens. Once again, we follow Larry (or in this gothic take on the story – Lawrence) Talbot  as he returns to his cursed ancestral home in the English countryside to investigate the murder of his brother.  Here we meet his distant and somewhat eccentric father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s grieving fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt).  The search for answers leads them to a gypsy camp, a dancing bear and, inevitably, a werewolf. Bloody mayhem ensues and, of course, the monster bites Lawrence. While recuperating, Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) from Scotland Yard visits him looking to get to the bottom of things and thus, the game is afoot.

Director Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”, “October Sky”) brings us a gorgeously shot film working from a script by Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“Road to Perdition”).  Execution is solid in most places except that, as Johnson’s first horror movie, he relies a little too heavily on ham-fisted jumpscares. It’s a shame because he otherwise does a good job of creating a nice dark, tense atmosphere throughout the movie.  And if that was the only flaw with this movie, I would daresay that this is a great revival of the franchise.

Unfortunately, Benicio Del Toro almost put a silver bullet through the heart of this movie. I should probably exercise some total disclosure and mention that I am not his biggest fan, but I felt like I went in willing to give him a chance. However, instead of engaging me in some sympathetic way, he just seemed to wander, glassy-eyed, from scene to scene armed only with a devastatingly small range of emotion.  I could understand if it were just for a bit of the movie where he was trying to portray numbed grief, but he seemed to be a soul-less automaton for the duration. It could have single-handedly torpedoed the whole movie.

Thank the gods for Anthony Hopkins.

Hopkins easily pulls the movie back from the abyss. I am convinced that he is the best monster in the modern era. There’s just something about the way he brings a causal menace to the screen that makes you say, “He is evil. He is a bad man… and yet, I must have tea with him.” Oh, and Hugo Weaving is rapidly turning into this generation’s Sean Connery. Not in that he portrays iconic heroes, but in that no matter what role he’s playing, he has the same accent. Emily Blunt doesn’t have much to do except for being look sad and be kinda angsty. Rick Baker’s special effects make-up for the wolfman are very good, of course. The CG effects were somewhat lacking. There were spots that I found it to be jarringly bad. They should have called Pixar to get some tips on how to render fur better.

“The Wolfman”, in spite of some fairly serious missteps, teaches the old dog some new tricks but still doesn’t do quite enough to muscle the old hairball past his blood sucking cousins.