Werewolf by Night review – Marvel’s monster movie is a fun, toothless treat

October 7, 2022
Jonathon Wilson 0
Disney+, Film, Film Reviews, Streaming Service
3.5

Summary

Werewolf by Night offers some fun throwback thrills in a quiet corner of the MCU, but the restraint in its story, characters, and action means the whole thing feels a little toothless.

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3.5

Summary

Werewolf by Night offers some fun throwback thrills in a quiet corner of the MCU, but the restraint in its story, characters, and action means the whole thing feels a little toothless.

This review of Werewolf by Night on Disney+ is spoiler-free.


If you’re wondering what a Marvel Studios special presentation is, don’t worry, so is everyone. From what I can work out it’s what used to be known as a TV movie. These days nobody watches live TV, so Werewolf by Night, directed by highly acclaimed composer Michael Giacchino, is streaming on Disney+ with the rest of Walt’s carefully fenced-off IP. In simple terms, it’s an hour of throwback monster-movie shenanigans occurring in a corner of the MCU that seems disconnected from any other, meaning that little that happens in it will matter to the wider continuity in any meaningful sense, and it can play a little faster and looser in its tone, approach, and level of gratuity.

And thank goodness for all this, honestly. As we’ve seen recently in Andor, also on Disney+, big-budget shared-universe storytelling really doesn’t have to lean entirely on nostalgia, cameos, and hints about more cameos. That isn’t to say that Werewolf by Night doesn’t have Easter eggs to be enthusiastically hoarded by those in the know, just that none of its drama relies on an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material. You don’t have to have seen twenty-odd prior films and associated series and obsessively followed the marketing for however many more that are on the near (and indeed distant) horizon to enjoy this, though one imagines anybody who watches Werewolf by Night will have already seen all the existing movies, shows, and marketing anyway, so perhaps the point is moot.

Regardless, what I’m getting at is that Werewolf by Night is a mostly original and disconnected tale that pulls characters and ideas from the same-titled ‘70s comic about Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal), an enigmatic monster hunter who is also – this in a bit of a whisper – secretly a werewolf. Giacchino directs from a script by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron that works as a throwback, a pastiche, and a diversion all at once, and you won’t see Captain America anywhere, which is perhaps just as well.

The setup here is pure shlock. Following the death of famed monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone, a bunch of fellow monster hunters are all invited to his estate in order to compete in a competitive hunt for the prize of the Bloodstone he was named after, a powerful relic of some vague magical significance. Russell is among them, as is Ulysses’s estranged daughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly, late of The Nevers), and several other largely archetypal hunters with varying kill counts, weapons, and moods. They’re mostly there as an introduction to the very specific horror-centric corner of Marvel’s continuity, and indeed to be killed off in a variety of unpleasant ways.

This resistance to Marvel’s usual way of doing things is the greatest strength of Werewolf by Night, which really doesn’t concern itself with anything other than its own lore and turns the violence and gore up to something roughly equivalent to that zombie episode of What If…?, which by usual MCU standards is the gloves coming all the way off. But I’d still argue it isn’t quite enough. At a brisk 53 minutes, there’s little time to really get a feel for the characters or setting, and while the kills are spicier than usual, they’re still pretty tame. The monster movie stuff that is evoking classic Universal and Hammer horror can’t help but play for laughs more often than not, and nothing that happens is especially novel or surprising.

But don’t let me get you down. Giacchino does great work with the Gothic visuals and sound, the effects aren’t bad, some of the action is pretty cool, and the whole thing’s a welcome refresher from the usual fare, not to mention being a reminder that there many other parts of Marvel’s vast storytelling canvas that could use a bit of attention. And don’t even get me started on a delightful Harriet Sansom Harris as Ulysses’s widow Verusa, giving a delightfully over-the-top villainous turn that really does feel like something you might describe as a special presentation.

You can stream Werewolf by Night exclusively on Disney+.

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