Lots and lots of SPOILERS ahead, just so you know.
I liked it. They did a good job remaking the 1941 film and by setting this one back in the 1890s, they avoided updating it too far where atmosphere would be lost. The basic framework of the Chaney movie was kept... Lawrence Talbot returns to his family home after the death of his brother and tries to reconcile with his estranged father. He becomes involved with a local girl Gwen Conliffe, but Lawrence unluckily gets bitten by a werewolf and becomes infected himself. (Wouldn't you know it?) He starts turning into a monster when the moon is full and his life fall apart. Some of the differences are minor, like Gwen being his late brother's fiancee. But this time, Sir John Talbot is a werewolf himself...
It's a terrific cast. Benicio del Toro is great at looking anxious and worried (maybe it's his natural expression), and Emily Blunt is always good (I actually took a while to warm up to her as an actress). Hugo Weaving as the police inspector is intense and bulldogish, and it's good for once to see the police go after the menace with the respect it deserves. None of the "it CAN'T be true!" that wastes time as the monster racks up its kills. Unexpectedly, Anthony Hopkins sort of let me down as the elder Talbot. I see what he was going for, that he had fought against werewolfery for twenty-odd years and, now that he had been unable to avoid changing, he relished it too much to consider giving it up again. But it wasn't clear to me how he felt about Lawrence returning and becoming a wooly himself. Hopkins has this little smirk most of the film that didn't tell me what the character was thinking.
The film has its weak points. The dialogue is a bit clunky and not to the point. I watched the unrated edition, which has expository material cut from the theatrical version. Some of the gore could have been cut to suit my preference, but then that's the standards of this day and it wasn't that far overboard or lingering. On the plus side, the look of the movie was just right. Not overlit, not so choppily edited that you aren't sure what just happened. The CGI was kept to a minimum, which IIabsolutely loved. Seeing actors (or stunt men) in costumes and Rick Baker make-up actually walking around and interacting with the other cast members gave a feeling of authenticity that's hard to match. Seeing real living human eyes glaring out from between fur and snout made the werewolves seem more alive than the best CGI cartoons.
Also, I like the werewolves we've been getting since THE HOWLING (you know, seven feet tall with actual wolf heads with upright ears and long muzzles) but I seriously enjoyed seeing a more human critter for a change, one more like the classic Jack Pierce interpretation. A Wolf Man.
And the new version does something that the Lon Chaney era had trouble establishing (mostly because of censor standards). It shows the Wolfman as dangerous
. He's quick and aggressive, he lashes out with long claws to rip open victims, he races (on all fours) and he leaps across the street or up over a wagon with the momentum and agility of a tiger. When the monster is loose in London like a fox in a chicken coop, he's genuinely scary in a way few screen werewolves were before. (Way too often, we see a werewolf just kind of stand around and look menacingly at victim for minutes at a clip. When these beasties see you, they lunge immediately).
I wasn't expecting much from THE WOLFMAN. Recent reworkings of the Frankenstein and Dracula characters didn't win me over, and the new Mummy films are really a different genre altogether, more like Indiana Jones than anything else. But if Universal was going to remake THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (hint) as well as they handled this, they'd get my patronage.