The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a bit stale as of late. Ever since the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the direction of this IP juggernaut has felt rudderless. Movies and shows have jumped around time periods and tones with varying levels of quality, ranging from relative heights like Spiderman: No Way Home to all-time lows. Looking at you, Eternals.
As a side effect of this more haphazard approach, some films and shows have been able to operate in their own unique genres, appealing to different niches. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk offer more distinct approaches to the Marvel formula than normal (campy horror, playful family drama, and legal comedy). Unfortunately, they all missed the mark in one way or another. However, just in time for the Halloween season, Marvel has finally released a creative, high-quality product worthy of the Marvel Studios nameplate: Werewolf by Night.
Helmed by long-time composer Michael Giacchino (The Batman, Jurassic World, Up) in his directorial debut, Werewolf by Night is an action horror flick in the vein of classic monster movies from the ’30s and ’40s. It particularly takes inspiration from oldies like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as more recent films like The Mummy and Ready or Not. Giacchino fits right in, brilliantly replicating the black-and-white film aesthetic of classic horror. He captures action scenes with ease, showing off his technical skills with long takes filled with brutal action. The transformation of a man into a werewolf is an especially memorable moment, and stands out amongst the somewhat boilerplate camerawork seen in Marvel Phase Four. Giacchino also composes the score here, which is appropriately macabre. After this excellent first outing, Giacchino absolutely deserves the opportunity to head a full-length feature film.
Gael García Bernal and Laura Donnelly star as Jack Russell and Elsa Bloodstone, two monster hunters who come to a professional gathering after the death of their leader. There, the new leader will be crowned after a hunt. Werewolf by Night has a slim runtime of 53 minutes, but García Bernal and Donnelly’s chemistry still manages to shine through. García Bernal depicts Jack Russell as a truly kind soul with a dark side, while Donnelly oozes charisma. Together, they do most of the heavy lifting to ensure the plot stays compelling.
Werewolf by Night never overstays its welcome, but I couldn’t help but feel the television film left some meat on the bone. The more interesting parts of its main characters are either outright explained or left to small throwaway comments. Elsa’s past in particular is important, but is mostly told in a big expository dump. Expanding the story to a full-length script would not only flesh out the interesting backstories of our leads, but also the motley crew of ensemble characters that mostly serve as fresh meat. The antagonist, Verussa, could particularly use the extra time for more character development. In addition, though the film is more violent and dark than the average Marvel work, a few of the running gags fall flat and don’t quite fit with the overall tone Giacchino is going for.
Overall, Werewolf by Night is an excellent short film created with care and it shows. The sets establish a great spooky mood, the cinematography and camerawork are outstanding, the action is vicious, and the story is the perfect kickoff to the Halloween season. Does Werewolf by Night reinvent the wheel? No. But it’s a fun-as-hell ride from beginning to end that is absolutely deserving of your time.