Werewolf by Night is the first (near) feature from famed and beloved composer Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is best known for his composing work on Pixar, Marvel, and Star Trek films over the last two decades. Most recently, he composed the stunning score for The Batman.
He's made some shorts before, but Werewolf by Night sees him tackle a 53-minute “special presentation” for Marvel Studios. And he largely succeeds.
The special tells the story of monster hunters who have gathered for the funeral of accomplished hunter Ulysses Bloodstone and for a competition to see who will next wield his powerful weapon. Like most Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stories, Werewolf by Night centers on a MacGuffin, here the “Bloodstone” (named after the family). But that Macguffin is smoothly introduced by a voiceover and images of old monster research books in the opening moments.
Following the now lengthy Marvel Studios logo being slashed by unseen claws and set to an epic horror version of the usual theme, that opening seems to set the tone for a horror story. But that's quickly undercut by humor and a lighter tone as we see the hunters meet and greet at the funeral. They swap stories and a servant for the house putters around whispering things to the now widowed wife of the famed hunter.
Given the special's black-and-white cinematography and the film grain filter, it's somewhat disappointing that the tone and narrative quickly shift into something more common from the MCU than what some viewers (including this one) would have hoped. But it's honest and allows us to get into the rhythm of what this special does have to offer.
Here There Be Monsters but No Fear
Some undeniably surprising moments approach horror in the special. In the first few minutes, the corpse of Ulysses Bloodstone speaks to the gathered hunters, not through any supernatural means, but because his corpse has been made into an animatronic. It's a great visual that's equally funny and macabre. And as the special goes on, there's more blood than has ever been spilled in the MCU before.
The competition to see who will next wield the Bloodstone sees the hunters enter a labyrinth to track down a monster that has been released with the Bloodstone embedded in its skin. But the hunters aren't only competing with one another to catch the monster. They are also free to attack and kill one another to become the stone's next wielder.
That premise leads to a few attempts at jump scares, but they don't quite land as anything scary because the special isn't interested in drumming up dread or tension in its audience. The setting allows for some gorgeous compositions of the brutalist labyrinth and surprisingly thrilling camera movements through the space.
It takes some time for the monsters to appear, but once they do, they look good in the black-and-white world of the special. Especially Man-Thing/Ted (Carey Jones), whose computer-generated image is helped by the lower light. Surprisingly it takes even longer for the titular werewolf to make an appearance, and it's played like a reveal that Jack is that werewolf despite the marketing for the special being very clear about that. It's not disappointing at the moment that Jack has taken so long to transform. But when the special gets better after his transformation, it does make you wish he'd turned earlier.
Marvel Traps Avoided and Succumbed To
There is action in the special before Jack's transformation, but it's not impactful. There's a lot of flipping and cartwheeling broken by frequent edits and an ax that falls into the usual MCU trap of looking more plastic than sharp.
But once Jack turns, the camera stays still for many of his fights, allowing us to see the impressive choreography created for this character. Sadly that's only true for Jack's fights. In the same battle, the issues of too frequent editing and forgettable choreography remain for other combatants.
The greatest strength of the special, though, is its black and white cinematography combined with the film grain and a few cigarette burns that give the special a distinct visual style in the MCU. Giacchino does a good job of making the images dynamic despite a relatively low contrast. And, as mentioned before, it even manages to offer some beautiful tableaus. It's refreshing to see something that looks different in this franchise, even if it is a less than an hour-long one-off.
But of course, it's unclear whether this is a one-off or Marvel/Disney will continue a story with Man-Thing/Ted and werewolf Jack. Their dynamic is charming, and Man-Thing's design makes me want to see more of him, even if it is in color. And a potential follow-up to this special does not necessitate the inclusion of more prominent MCU storylines or other characters.
Along with the distinct look, the single-story nature of Werewolf by Night makes it unique within the MCU, even if it's not groundbreaking in action or horror storytelling. It's a fun adventure story that won't scare anyone but will delight fans of the original comics who likely doubted they'd ever see these characters on screen. And it's a welcome surprise for those experiencing some Marvel fatigue.
Werewolf by Night is now streaming on Disney+
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.
He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.