I saw THE WOLFMAN on opening night like I said I would. I went in excited despite the mostly negative reviews (holding at 30% give or take on RottenTomatoes) that surfaced in the few days prior. I didn't leave the theater feeling terribly disappointed, but I guess I didn't feel very much at all. The film was not disastrous and actually has to rank among the finest werewolf movies ever made, but considering its company in such a category, that doesn't exactly constitute a ringing endorsement.
There were many flaws in The WOLFMAN, but it also had a lot going for it. There was never any doubt that the makeup of Rick Baker would be outstanding. The classic wolfman design is often passed over in favor of a more animalistic creature these days, probably because it is more frightening and holds a greater potential for savagery. Baker was able to update the original monster to give it a more frightening appearance and some could argue that this was the most savage werewolf to date. Another triumph of Baker's is a staple of the genre in the transformation scene. Baker turned heads in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON with it's extremely uncomfortable transformation. In THE WOLFMAN he uses his expertise to create some very intense mutations that are effective, but still fall short of his previous work.
The film also looked very good, complete with great Victorian settings and foggy woodlands. The monster belongs to these times when superstitious notions still thrived amongst common people. This actually gives rise to one of the film's best scenes. When the townspeople come for Lawrence in the aftermath of his encounter with the beast, they are completely aware of what is going to happen to him. One of their horses gets too close to him, it bucks away as if it knows as well. A quick struggle ensues before the persecutors are driven away by Lawrence's father, Sir John Talbot, who turns out to be an interesting amendment to the character in the original THE WOLF MAN. Portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Sir John is a wicked man, whose true nature and motivations become clear fairly quick in the film (and should even be clear by watching the trailers). His interactions with his son are strong ones, but it's still a mystery why he is such a brute even to his own family. His telling of an encounter with a strange creature in the Hindu Kush is also a strong point of the film creatively.
These strong points, however, are not able to overshadow the many shortcomings of the film. This father vs. son element in the film is interesting and original, but going down such a route takes away from character development in Lawrence. I'd argue that we even know Sir John more than we know Lawrence. His trials and tribulations in anticipation of his inevitable change are muted and skipped over. I mentioned the scene above where the horse know his true nature, which is also supplemented by a scene where a dog stares him down. These types of scenes are few and far between. There needs to be more anticipation of his transformation. The month in between being bit and becoming the beast is relatively unimportant, when it could have been the most interesting part of the film. There are a few flashes in Lawrence's mind to hint at something troubling ahead for him, but he doesn't seem to struggle with it as one should. After becoming the werewolf, there is room for more character development in Lawrence, but that is also stifled. His time in the mental institution is reduced to a montage. When he breaks out, his main goal is getting back to Talbot Castle to face his father. I'd like to know how he's dealing with the monster he's become. There's also a romance in there somewhere with Emily Blunt's character, built on one encounter where the two skipped stones together.
Basically, the film was choppier that I would have liked. It felt short and could have taken its time better. It seemed like most of the film took place on nights of the full moon with little attention being paid to the in between. I didn't mind the gore and it was certainly done well, but that doesn't really frighten me and the rampages don't help me understand the characters any better. There's a spooky element to the whole curse aspect of the werewolf that never really comes to the surface because too much time is spent swimming in viscera. When the monster and Lawrence inevitably come to their tragic end, it doesn't feel all that tragic because we never really got to know him and the love he leaves behind had no logical reason for loving him anyway.
As far as werewolf films go, this only ranks behind the original THE WOLF MAN and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but I've never seen DOG SOLDIERS, which is highly regarded.
There are some sequel possibilities with this film despite its ending that could recall FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, which would really flesh out the character of Lawrence as the wolfman and make for a better film, but I doubt that will happen.