Werewolf by Night review: Marvel special shows how to bring a monster into MCU; Morbius, Venom better take notes

Werewolf by Night review: Marvel’s monster feature is dark and funny at the same time, bringing a breath of fresh air to a fatigued superhero genre.

ByAbhimanyu Mathur

For years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticised for being too light, too glitzy, and at times, too self-indulgent. Critics have said the films are often indistinguishable from one another, even if they are enjoyable. After the experiments of WandaVision and Doctor Strange 2, it’s Werewolf by Night that finally breaks the shackles, giving viewers the most unique, refreshing and un-Marvel-like MCU presentation in years. The 52-minute horror special is a throwback to classic Hollywood monster genre and takes the Marvelverse in a new, welcome direction.

Werewolf by Night tells the story of Jack Russell, a relatively unknown Marvel Comics character who is cursed to transform into a wolf-like monster on full moon night. The special focuses on one particular night in the life of Jack, as he tries to save his friend Ted (what a delightful Marvel cameo by Man Thing) from monster hunters. It’s scary, fun, and uses every trope that made classic monster features so great, bringing a side of Marvel to screen that no filmmaker had ever dared to.

The USP of Werewolf by Night is the black-and-white noir presentation. Everything from the title cards to the cinematography is an ode to the 1930s and 1940s monster films from Hollywood, as well as the iconic series The Twilight Zone. The special uses hardly any CGI and instead opts for practical effects and prosthetics to create the titular monster, a departure from Marvel’s CGI-VFX-friendly model. It is like a breath of fresh air in these effects-saturated times we live in. Director Michael Giacchino brings back that tone and tenor of the classic horror genre beautifully. Given his pedigree as a composer, he does so with the use of some of the best background score used in a superhero film or show in recent times.

The one drawback of the 52-minute runtime of Werewolf by Night is that it behaves like a single standalone episode of The Twilight Zone. It does not delve on the backstory of the characters, leaving their motivations and interpersonal relationships largely unseen and untold. That worked on the show because we expected it but here, it leaves it an almost unfinished product, where we can’t quite get invested in the characters easily.

Gael Garcia Bernal is the star of the show, both literally and figuratively. Despite the fact that the audience isn’t given time to warm up to Jack and the curse that plagues him, he brings in the intensity, urgency, and anguish of his character to the fore effortlessly. I sincerely hope that we see more of him in the MCU in future. The actor and character both have a lot of potential. Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone stands out among the rest of the cast.

The show (or is it a film?) brings the Bloodstone to the MCU and Laura establishes it quite firmly with a measured and likable performance. The other monster hunters seen in the film lack individuality and seem as if they are there to fill the numbers. Perhaps it was the short runtime that meant there was little scope to explore their backstories but as I said before, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The biggest win for Werewolf by Night is how un-Marvel-like it is. It is dark and scary, without going the DC gritty route, and it is funny, without being as vain as some Marvel offerings. Full credit goes to the writers and the directors for that. Fans of the classic horror genre will certainly love it. For others, there is plenty to like as well, including a rather explosive cameo from Man-Thing, the popular Marvel anti-hero (the only character that uses CGI).

Werewolf by Night is niche in that it creates a space that films haven’t explored of late, an almost self-critical, self-mocking manner of approaching horror and supernatural. That it manages to be enjoyable in a time when superhero and horror content is overflowing says a lot about how good it is. If Sony ever wants to make Morbius 2 (although I hope to God they don’t), they need only watch Werewolf by Night to watch how one brings a classic monster into the MCU so wonderfully. Werewolf by Night is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar from October 7.

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