Special effects and location shots can only get you so far when your cast looks like they’re telegraphing their performances in.
Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to Blackmoor, England when he is told of his missing brother. Reuniting with his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), for the first time since he left as a youth, Lawrence learns he is too late and his brother is dead. Failing to heed his father’s warning and determined to keep a promise to his brother’s fiance, Gwen (Emily Blunt), Lawrence goes to a gypsy camp in the dead of night to seek answers. While chaos erupts in the encampment with the arrival of hunters, it is the woodland beast accused of killing Lawrence’s brother itself that answers the call.
Besides the fact that we had to wait an additional five months to see this film, I had reasonably higher hopes. First, the film’s pacing has two speeds, fast and stop; either everyone is standing or sitting around looking dumbfounded or everyone is running every which way until gunshots go off. Second, everyone seems to already know what’s going on, but the only the ones who “can’t quite be sure” seem to have any authority. Finally, all the major parts, including Hugo Weaving’s Scotland Yard detective Abberline, seem wasted, placeholders for other actors that didn’t have the pedigree or connections but might have given more of an effort.
Emily Blunt is little more than window dressing, so were left with the men. Weaving’s only use is in staring agape at the wolfman, so not much use there. Hopkins has done this supporting actor bit so many times that he could sleep through it: McCandless in Freejack, Van Helsing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Powell in Instinct, and even the elder in The Mask of Zorro (the good one.) Don’t get me wrong, Sir Hopkins is a fine actor (Hannibal Lector, anyone?) but these parts weren’t demanding and nothing was demanded of him here. That just leaves Benicio Del Toro himself, the one I had the highest hopes for when I heard he would play the wolfman. What happened? With the exception of the asylum scene in the previews where he screams threats to all watching, Del Toro seems completely numb the rest of the time and ineffectual at best. Emily Blunt is supposed to fall in love with this?
The outdoor scenes are appropriately chilling and atmospheric, but the cast seems so down and depressed that it lends nothing to the production that isn’t on everyone’s faces already. The surprises aren’t surprising and every scene is a foregone conclusion. Whether this lack of emotion is the reason why the film was held back from last October or the result after cutting whatever it had going for it out, what we’re left with certainly doesn’t do much to apologize for Universal’s part in making Van Helsing. Best three out of five, or are we going to just have to put up with more Mummy sequels until someone can come up with another decent Universal monster flick?
(a two skull recommendation out of four)