Werewolf by Night review: Marvel lays waste to another great concept
Stick it on the pile marked 'missed opportunities'. It's getting awfully high...
No one wanted to like Werewolf by Night more than me. As a fan of both the horror genre and Marvel's fringe supernatural characters, this Halloween special from Disney Plus seemed destined to be my top pick for spooky season.
Alas, the unforgiving Phase Four of this overworked franchise has fumbled yet another great concept. While watchable enough and enjoyable in parts, this brief one-shot story isn't the surefire hit it deserved to be, with a quickly worn out gimmick covering for a plot entirely lacking in substance.
The story begins with a cabal of eccentric monster hunters gathering on a dark, misty night to commemorate the loss of one of their own: Ulysses Bloodstone. The magical gem he wielded in life is now up for grabs, with his disgraced daughter, Elsa (Laura Donnelly), among the cohort vying for its power.
However, only the victor of a ceremonial hunt will be able to claim it as their own, with the target being a grotesque monster allowed to roam the Bloodstone estate. Can she find the beast before mysterious killer Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) or another of her distinguished competition?
Werewolf by Night makes a strong first impression, with the retro horror style at its most focused in the first half. Each of the hunters assembled cuts a striking figure initially, but none get a chance to develop beyond glorified set dressing.
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Perhaps this would be easier to overlook if dual leads Jack and Elsa were an electrifying pair, but both characters fall flat as cookie cutter Marvel leads – Jack, the charming yet dopey male, and Elsa, the feisty female who crucially can do lots of flips. Besides powers, there's little to distinguish them from Star-Lord and Gamora, or Ant-Man and Wasp, or Thor and Valkyrie.
The plotting is as paper-thin as the characters, perhaps by design. After all, Werewolf by Night is intended to honour the campy horror cinema of the 1930s and '40s, but as the special drifts closer in style to typical MCU fare across its second half, the nonsensical story begins to feel less and less interesting.
This is in spite of an ambitious action sequence that does as much as it can under the confines of a '12' rating, flinging some digital blood splatter at the camera as the eponymous werewolf tears through some nameless grunts.
Unfortunately, the scene is shot so poorly that none of the takedowns feel completely satisfying; again, perhaps a deliberate homage to the style of the time, or perhaps a tactical choice to avoid giving too close a look at the practical werewolf costume.
While the choice of using a real suit instead of CGI is admirable, there's a sense that director Michael Giacchino didn't have much faith in the end result given how desperately the camera seems to avoid it. Having watched the whole thing, I'm still not entirely sure what it looks like. If that was the goal then mission accomplished!
Marvel Studios has taken some big swings during Phase Four of its shared universe, kick-starting with bold experiment WandaVision and pushing further into new territory throughout. Unfortunately, as the franchise finds itself stretched increasingly thin across cinema and streaming, many of these strong concepts have come out half-baked and Werewolf by Night is just another example.
Perhaps most damning of all is that the absence of a post-credits scene barely even registers. It's hard to imagine anyone but purists crying out for these characters to return. Nevertheless, see you in Secret Wars, probably!
Werewolf by Night is available to stream on Disney Plus from Friday 7th October 2022. Sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year.
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