Synopsis: On a dark and somber night, a secret cabal of monster hunters emerge from the shadows and are thrust into a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic that will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Al Hamacher, Eugenie Bondurant, Kirk Thatcher, Leonardo Nam, Daniel J. Watts
Director: Michael Giacchino
Running Length: 52 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I am behind on my Marvel TV. There, I said it. It feels good to say it, but it had to be said. There is simply not enough time and far too much Marvel to take on. First, you have the films, and then you have the television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that are coming out on the streaming service Disney+ on a revolving door schedule. Once one series ends, another one is hot on its trail. I love content, don’t get me wrong, but there is just so much to take in. I’m overwhelmed. Aren’t you overwhelmed?
I will, however, make time in my schedule for the newest trick Marvel has up its sleeve. Maybe I’m just being me, but I think the studio may have made Werewolf by Night just for fans like myself who would rather gobble up one fun meal that hits all the taste groups at once. Timed perfectly for a Halloween release and directed by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (already represented in 2022 by 5 film scores, notably The Batman), this is the first of the new Marvel Studios Special Presentation series, which takes place within the established Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who can say if an Avenger or two will show up in these, but Werewolf by Night is firmly its own…beast.
Ulysses Bloodstone has died, and his fellow monster hunters have been summoned to Bloodstone Temple to mourn. As part of this ceremony, a new hunt will begin, and to the victor will go the powerful Bloodstone. First, they’ll have to find the monster released in the nearby maze with the artifact affixed to them. Take down the creature and claim your prize. Assembled are the best and most feared slayers, among them Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal, Old), as well as Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly, Tolkien), the prodigal daughter of Ulysses who has returned, much to the dismay of her evil Stepmother (Harriet Sansom Harris, Licorice Pizza). Yet there is another monster among them who is also interested in more than just Bloodstone, ready to rise before the night is out,
Filmed predominantly in black and white and shot to look like a production from one of those creaky movie studios like Hammer, you might imagine Werewolf by Night to have been directed by Frankenstein’s James Whale. It’s undoubtedly massive enough in scale (and performance) to be attributed to that legendary film director. Giacchino hints at the same type of promising career behind the camera as the one he already has had composing for it. The absence of color brings out the textures in the maze, made up of hedges and homes with plenty of places for man and monster to hide in wait.
It’s a strange beast, though, this Werewolf by Night. Being the first of its kind in the Marvel Special Presentation Field, it often struggles to find its tone. Does it want to be a warm nod to those Hammer/Universal Studios monster movies they made nearly 100 years ago, or is it going for a particular brand of retro-stalgia and wry humor that will send its fans into the galaxy? I couldn’t tell you if the short is packed with Easter Eggs from other Marvel characters or if it ties into different worlds, but as a stand-alone morsel, it’s a tasty bite but not always the delicious meal it could be with a little more thought behind it.
Without spoiling, I will say the ending is a nice bit of movie magic while bringing the film back fully back to its Marvel roots. In that sense, the spell cast by the filmmakers of Werewolf by Night until that point is broken, and I’m not sure how successful that makes it overall. Sansom Harris is having a ball gnashing at the scenery, and Bernal is a likable lead with several secrets up his sleeve. I’m not sold on Donnelly yet, though she has the pluck Marvel loves in its leading ladies.
A Halloween treat for fans, Marvel and Disney+ use Werewolf by Night as an opportunity to test the waters with something new, and it’s mostly good news. Anything that’s first is bound to find some stumbling blocks, but viewers will appreciate having something different to sink their teeth into this spooky season.