The Edward Gorey-esque English countryside evokes the best of gothic brooding, and the mists on the moors that characters inevitably finding themselves fleeing through, brooding upon, stalking about or hurrying over are the sine qua non of spooky landscapes. Every inch of the Talbot estate is intricately worked wood, Victorian gewgaws and grisly trophies of Sir John Talbot's (Anthony Hopkins) great white hunter expeditions. Layer on top Danny Elfman's perfectly overwrought orchestral soundtrack, which is as brooding and dramatic as an intensely gay goth-kid, and you've got the setting for a truly classic monster movie.
"Wolfman" largely delivers. Anthony Hopkins strides through his broody hall, brooding on its elegantly shambled broodingness while wearing his broody tiger-skin bathrobe. Emily Blunt flits across the broody moors wearing her broody, ethereal gowns, while brooding over her lost love. Hugo Weaving as the brooding inspector pokes and prods in the brooding lives of the brooding villagers. And ...record scratch ... Benicio Del Toro?
And there's the problem. Benecio Del Toro just isn't credible as the emotionally haunted (dare I say brooding?) and fragile Lawrence Talbot son of the English aristocracy who fled to America. In the really gripping, frightful scenes where the wolfman first attacks, he seems perfectly at home stalwartly picking up the rifle of a dismembered villager and striding off onto the moonlit, foggy moor to save a gypsy lad. As an action hero, he's great - but as the tortured and tragic soul who falls victim to a terrible (brooding) curse, he just doesn't deliver. The movie called for someone more nuanced, more delicate. Del Toro just seems puffy and uncomfortable.
"Wolfman" is, however, very true to the spirit of the original. While it does show a lot of gore, it doesn't deliver the blood and guts up-front, building suspense with half-seen glimpses of something manlike and horrible. (On the foggy, brooding moor, of course.) When the Wolfman howls, it's a chilling blast right from the silver age of Hollywood monster flicks. It looks fantastic, it sounds great - and Hugo Weaving utterly steals every scene he stalks through as the inimitable inspector. "Rules, Miss - we still have them. And they're the only thing that separates us from the beasts, and a dog-eat-dog chaos. Now. Pint of bitters, please." Never has a newspaper been folded so authoritatively!
With an actor like say, Clive Owen, or a younger Jeremy Irons as Lawrence Talbot, this would have been fantastic. But with the dowdy and howlingly (get it?) un-English Del Toro, the climactic battle of Wolfmen seems a bit too much like professional wrestlers from the 80's tossing each other around, and his emotional angst reads a lot like being just too stoned to know which end is up. Del Tores is a great actor, a real heavy-weight who brought a ton of gravitas to "Traffic", greasy jitters to "Usual Suspects" and delivered in every role he's tackled. But he's just plain mis-cast in this one, and it's a shame because it stands in the way of getting swept up in Wolfman's old-school monster movie