The Hammer Horror films are indisputable genre classics, probably ranking among the best horror films of all time. There's just something unique about those wonderful old creature features which attracts audiences and filmmakers even to this day, which explains why most of the old franchises have been resurrected from the grave at least as often as the various beasties that populate them. Remakes, however, have not always been kind to the old Hammer films - for every inspired retelling there are a dozen crude cash ins or worse still movies like Joe Johnston's The Wolfman - heartbreaking near misses that are all the more painful for all they do right.
The cast of Johnston's film is probably its strongest point, although not without its flaws. Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving are both excellent as always, but there's nothing in either of their roles that they haven't done before and better. Hopkins as the creepy old guy with a secret and Weaving as the intimidating authority figure, huh? Nope, haven't seen either of those characters before. Benicio del Toro an Emily Blunt both put in creditable performances as the leads, but their roles are so underwritten that they're given very little to work with.
Speaking of writing, the script is far and away the weakest part of The Wolfman. Although much of the dialogue is somewhat cliched, this is forgivable for its at least in keeping with the spirit of the Hammer Horror films. Additionally, the pacing is all over the place - the film builds up momentum only to brutally slam on the brakes and then start the whole process over again. But neither the dialogue nor the pacing are the worst parts of this sorry script, which was rewritten several times over during a long and troubled production history. Instead, the script's true cardinal sin lies in its artificially puffed up nature - while the 1941 original starring Lon Chaney Junior ran at a sleek seventy minutes, the 2010 version of The Wolfman plumps it self up to a more commercially viable hour and forty minutes by adding in several subplots that range from unnecessary to infuriating. Withholding spoilers, I'll merely say that one of these additions is especially egregious, derailing any true commonality with the original and making Johnston's film a remake in only the most superficial of ways.
It's a cynical but true statement that horror movies often live and die by their visuals, more so than most other genre films. In this respect at least, The Wolfman does not disappoint. The transformation sequences are almost painful to watch as joints pop out of alignment and bones break and then reknit themselves in mere moments, and the titular lycanthrope is a truly savage looking beast. Also of note is the gloomy and gothic atmosphere created by skillful camera work and excellent set design - this aspect of the film more than any other seems truly loyal to its predecessor.
The Wolfman is definitely among the best modern remakes of the Hammer films, but that's really just damning with faint praise. While Joe Johnston's film is certainly no dog, neither will it make audiences howl with delight.