Okay, the movie doesn’t work. It has zero character development and the plot – which is actually quite good – seems to have wound up largely on the cutting room floor. But you have to understand, when I was a mite, the Universal Studio monsters were all in all to me. That kid in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot with the Aurora monster models on his shelves – that was me. And just as in comic books – which I also loved – there were two major stars, Superman and Batman, and then one cool and off-beat runner-up in Spiderman, so with the Universal monsters, there were Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula – and then Wolf Man.
Wolf Man was cool because unlike Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster, he wasn’t evil or angry or brutish or out for revenge. He was a great guy who didn’t want to be a monster at all. He was just cursed with a ravening beast within. What little boy can’t identify with that? What male humanoid, for that matter?
So every time I saw a trailer for this weekend’s Wolfman remake, a Chris Matthews style thrill ran up my leg. (Until I realized it actually was Chris Matthews. The guy will not leave me alone.) And even though I could see the film itself wasn’t really working, I enjoyed every minute of it and there were some things about it I actually loved. Five, to be exact. And here they are:
1. Brio over Irony. Director Joe Johnston didn’t take the easy path of making fun of his subject or holding himself above it. He went for it. You want gothic settings? I’ll show you gothic settings! You want a full moon? Look at this baby! It was the real deal all the way and if the characters and plot had been there, the thing would’ve been a visual masterpiece.
2. Anthony Hopkins. The guy could make a full-blooded character out of a matchstick and a piece of twine and that’s pretty much what he does here. How you hire an actor like that and give him, essentially, one scene to act in, I don’t know. But it’s a great scene and, as always, when Hopkins is having fun, we’re having fun.
3. The big insane asylum scene. The marvelous and underused Antony Sher delivers a delightful and ultimately literal evisceration of the analytical approach to life. Hilarious in a macabre way without taking you out of the movie.
4. Hugo Weaving as the Scotland Yard guy. I love it when an actor gets what he’s supposed to do and does it to the max. Weaving plays the part for real but gets into the whole gothic enthusiasm of it at the same time. He captures the tone of the movie perfectly.
5. The scenery. It’s meant to be terrific to look at and it is terrific to look at. The woods, the mansion, the sepulcher, London and London Bridge. I may buy the DVD just to see them all again. Cool beans.
Oh, and also there’s the fact that Benicio Del Toro looks exactly like Lon Chaney Jr. in the original: overfed and lachrymose, not to mention completely unable to do an upper class accent.
Ah well. I wish it had been as good as the trailer, but a good time was had by me.