For such an iconic monster, the werewolf probably has the thinnest cinematic background. An off-shoot of Jekyll and Hyde, everyone remembers Lon Chaney Jnr's Universal performance from the 40s. After that the only notable films are Oliver Reed's 'The Curse of the Werewolf' (still a great film with scary moments, even in 2010) the classic but also hard-to-catagorise 'American Werewolf In London'. That film was over twenty years ago of course and since that time perhaps only the 'Ginger Snaps' trilogy came anywhere near something fresh or at least startling with the basic werewolf movie.
This latest outing for old fur face is a real curates egg: at different times it tries to be different things, mostly unsuccessfully. A shame, because I was really looking forward to it, although my antennae were up with the film having been delayed for something like 18 months, with numerous release dates coming and going. Where to start? Firstly, Del Torro didn't do it for me in the title role. I know he played a big part in getting the film off the ground but too often his performance is (or seems) non-committal. He seems to be wandering around through scenes and dialogue with no clear take on the role. He is a great actor - couldn't get enough of 'Che' - but here, there's an emptiness at his centre and I find myself hankering after some Lon Chaney-style earnestness.
The romantic plot, such as it is, is too throwaway and slight - this is no reflection on Emily Blunt who, together with Hugo Weaving, give the best performances. Anthony Hopkins....at this stage in his career he probably fancied a bit of a laugh and I'm not going to deny him that BUT his character was too...? Plus, at different times his accent veers from his native Welsh to Kings English to 'Oirish Brogue. Wasn't anyone keeping tabs on him?
The victorian setting is a great stroke, and the London scenes are probably worth the price of admission, but there's too much sense of a directionless story, too much feeling that they wanted to do a little homage here and there to this and that, not enough sense of pushing the whole thing forward and into new territory.
My main gripe though is the the werewolf himself. If after tosh like 'Van Helsing' there was still some doubt about the inadequacy of CGI as the end-all to effects problems, it should be very clear here: a CGI main monster almost never works. The old 'Cat People' adage of less is more is very true for the werewolf film. The great transformation scene in 'American Werewolf' was a true cinematic one-off; we hadn't scene it before and it was done with old-style effects which made it seem extra-real. But you can't go back.
There were some good moments, one or two genuine shocks, but I found the gore too off-putting; another example of them trying to please everyone but ending up making no-one happy.
I'm thinking of this as a reasonably fond farewell not to the werewolf himself, but to this cinematic incarnation of him. Next time I see him, I want him dragged into new and more interesting directions. Think it can't be done? Check out Stephen Moffat's serial drama 'Jekyll' from a few years ago. Wolfie, there's life in the old dog yet...