It's hard, it has to be, to be a filmmaker in the 21st century intent on remaking a genre classic like Universal's legendary The Wolf Man. You're going to find yourself, much like The Wolfman (the remake loses a space) director Joe Johnston has maybe found himself, square in damned if you do and damned if you don't territory. You're handed the keys to the kingdom, you find yourself responsible for a profoundly important cultural artifact like wolfie, and you have to deliver. Do you "update" and "re-imagine" and risk the absolute thrashing you'll take, word-of-mouth, from the reverent nerd crowd? Or do you go old fashioned, do it faithful and old-school, and risk alienating audiences more used to slasher flicks and Werewolf versus Dracula inside the Techno Dome techno-monster thrillers like Underworld?
Thankfully (to this nerd, any way) Johnston went old school. Way old school. His remake features Benecio and Anthony Hopkins as the cursed father and son of Blackmoor, competing beasts cursed by fate to burst into full mane every full moon and tear up the hedgerows of the sleepy countryside. The wolfman in The Wolfman is no sleek CGI beast - we're talking full on Lon Chaney Jr. man-with-a-hairy-face style beast-man style, and it's both silly and impossibly great to see, thanks to the diligent old-fashioned hair-by-hair makeup by Rick Baker.
That they did it, that they were faithful to the original aesthetic and idea of the 1941 original is near enough to make me happy, if only because it could have been so, so much worse. As it is, the film is herky-jerky, rushing at a sprint through important character moments and then slowing to an inexplicable crawl when there's not really much going on. Emily Blunt, del Toro and Hopkins are all as good as they could be, but where they succeed wildly as actors in creating a dreadful, haunted atmosphere they fail due to a poor script at creating much in the way of emotional resonance. The film is beautiful, dark and gloomy and spectacularly well designed but at the same time leaden, morose and not in any way affecting. It crawls and sprints, it looks great when it doesn't look hilariously goofy, the characters are mysteries to us and to each other, and it falls way short of both the original and the grand dank tragedy it was trying to be. It could, though, have been a million times worse.