Review in a Hurry: Benicio Del Toro gets hairier and crazier than usual as Lawrence Talbot, an Anglo-American actor and unlikely spawn of Anthony Hopkins, who becomes particularly dangerous, doggy-style, when the moon is full. Outstanding production design and heavy doses of gore render this a gleefully gothic tale, though the story could have used a bit more attention.
The Bigger Picture: This long-in-the-works remake of the Lon Chaney-starring horror classic has a troubled history, having changed directors at least once, and release dates at least twice.
In general, the seams don't show—if you liked Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, which similarly updated a classic monster in period style with more modern-type detective work and violence, you'll like this, too.
Plus, it's been a long time since there was this much explicit carnage in a big-studio horror movie with A-list stars.
There are also cheap shocks aplenty; any time the soundtrack suddenly starts to get super-quiet, rest assured that a loud bang awaits around the corner.
Casting del Toro in the lead role brings a different dynamic than the original, however: like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, he seems potentially sick and psychotic from the getgo, which is explained by a new backstory about how Talbot did time in a mental institution. It's a forgivable addition, although director Joe Johnston falters slightly when depicting Talbot's hallucination sequences, using cheap dissolves and superimpositions that seem creaky compared to the rest of the movie. Casting Hopkins and failing to rein him in at all is a similarly dubious call.
Gone is the Holocaust allegory that the 1941 film subtly presented, and in its place, the werewolf becomes more of a Dr. Jekyll addiction metaphor, complete with relapses and genetic predispositions. Not that this is super-cerebral, or anything—full moons seem to occur practically every other day in this story, offering plenty of opportunity for bone-cracking transformations and limb-ripping action.
Stylistic shout-outs to the original, not to mention other forebears like King Kong and An American Werewolf in London, are nicely subtle.
There is one significant misstep into campy, over-CGI'ed Van Helsing territory near the end, but fortunately things recover before all is said and done. You wanted your Wolfman scary? Mostly, you got it.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Continuity nit-pickers may well find plenty to occupy their time: notably, a major inconsistency regarding whether or not a werewolf must be in direct moonlight to transform.
(Originally published Feb. 11, 2010 at 8:50 p.m. PT)
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