Emily and I saw it on Valentine’s Day, and although its lack of sexy vampires meant it was starting at a disadvantage vis a vis other werewolf movies, it was still fairly good. In fact, for the first third of the movie it was just about everything you could want from a werewolf movie. The moors were misty, the townspeople were appropriately panicky, and the beast — unspoken, unseen — was terrifying.
Anthony Hopkins is especially good — stacked up against a bunch of lesser and/or less professionally diligent actors, it becomes immediately apparent just how real a quality charisma is. He does a great job as the obvious Colonel Kurtz figure, telegraphing the coming action to the audience in a dread-inducing way while keeping his character’s status close enough to ambiguity that the rest of the cast’s “oh I think maybe he’s just depressed” treatment of him remains plausible. Hell, for the first act even Benicio del Toro seems okay, if you allow yourself to succumb to the tempting fantasy that his puffy, waxy aristocrat is being played that way to better contrast with his coming bestial descent. Actually, though, it turns out he’s just a bad actor! Or doesn’t give a shit. Either way.
Unfortunately, things degrade once the filmmakers let the werewolves out of Scotland. The Victorian London on display is even less imaginative than the one from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And, as al3x points out, a proper werewolf demands a snout. I get that they were intentionally sticking with the classic wolfman look, but it really needed more of an update from that “I would have combed my hair if I knew I was going to be photographed” look.
The movies does nothing with the tension-creating dynamics of the rules surrounding werewolf transformations. The feints toward the destroying-someone-you-love theme that’s essential to werewolf stories seem half-hearted. The first act culminates in a fantastic scene at a gypsy camp, but everything else involving the gypsies turns out to be a red herring. In fact, everything after that scene is either completely banal and straightforward, or a half-assed fakeout that does nothing but waste your time and attention. And Hugo Weaving continues to annoy and disappoint me whenever he’s not playing a computer.
But man, what could’ve been! Really, the first third is very well done, and well worth sitting through when it arrives on HBO. Hopefully by then you’ll be able to stream Dog Soldiers off Netflix, and you can turn off the later parts of Wolfman in favor of that.