Exploring new ways to spice up an existing and long-running franchise such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a challenge for many new filmmakers adding their take or spin in the recent Phase 4 of the MCU. “Wandavision” started out as a 1950s soap opera, with a 4:3 aspect ratio and a live audience, but quickly became just another Marvel show, never fully committing to the style in the first episodes.
Other projects like “Doctor Strange 2” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” tried to stand out but fell flat due to poor writing, comedy and action setpieces. However, no other project has stayed with a consistent horror tone such as “Werewolf by Night,” the 37th entry into the MCU.
This review contains spoilers.
“Werewolf By Night” was directed by Michael Giacchino, his directorial debut. Giacchino is an excellent composer and one of the all time greats, composing for “Up,” “Planet of the Apes” and the recent “Spider-Man” movies. For what it’s worth, he did a good job at both directing and composing. The shots are fluid, there are some great long takes during action scenesm, and it never felt too stale. Everything Giacchino did for this project was good, but the story and writing were where the problems emerged.
“Werewolf By Night” is Marvel’s first ‘Special Presentation,’ which really means a 50-minute special, which is one of the film’s biggest issues. There are no pre-existing characters, which means that all character development for the main characters and side characters have to be crammed into a shorter runtime. This really shows when after immediately watching the special it’s hard to remember the side character’s names or even the main villain. There are flashes of characterization in a couple scenes, but there wasn’t enough of it to make the audience care when they all eventually die.
To put it plainly, “Werewolf By Night” is mediocre. The story revolves around ten hunters who, after the death of their leader, has a Hunger Games-style hunting competition to see who will obtain the Bloodstone relic, which can kill or weaken monsters. Our main characters are Jack, played by Gael García Bernal, who is best known for his performance in the animated movie “Coco,” and Elsa who is played by Laura Donnelly, best known for her main role in HBO’s “The Nevers.”
After a ceremony, the hunt begins with hunters facing off against both the monster and each other. Eventually it is revealed that Jack himself is a werewolf and was in the hunt to save his friend Ted, or “Man-Thing.” It all culminates with Jack turning into a werewolf and killing everyone besides Elsa and Ted. The special ends with Jack and Ted escaping and living together in the woods. Overall, the story is very cookie-cutter and predictable, but it could be because this special is a love letter to old 1930s monster movies, which were incredibly cheesy and campy. However, the horror aspect for the most part isn’t bad. There won’t be a time where you are scared out of your mind, but it’s still interesting to watch.
“Werewolf By Night” would have benefited tremendously from a longer runtime to really flesh out the characters. We never learn about any of the characters' backstories, we just know they are monster hunters and that’s it. With more time to explore this society, learn about these monsters and how Jack befriended the monster would’ve been excellent to see; however sadly we do not get that. After watching the special many people will be left wanting more, which isn’t inherently good or bad, but nonetheless is disappointing. Compared to other Phase 4 projects, this one stands out as being the most out there and different, but hopefully specials in the future could benefit from a longer runtime.