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Werewolf by Night Review: An Undeniable Halloween Treat & A Potential Marvel Game Changer

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Werewolf by Night, Marvel Studios’ first-ever special, is undoubtedly one of the most surprising and entertaining things Marvel has produced in the calendar year of 2022.

A 52-minute black and white homage to Universal monster movies, directed by an Oscar-winning composer and first-time director and centered around a fringe Marvel Comics character does not exactly jump off the page as destination viewing. Yet, director Michael Giacchino, writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, and stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Laura Donnelly and Harriet Sansom Harris have done just that and potentially more.

Giacchino does an incredible job creating an atmosphere that is both inherently an homage to classic horror films and very much at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The set design here is brilliant as it looks simultaneously ripped from the pages of a comic book and dusted off from the storage of a long-defunct Hollywood backlot. The original score heightens the atmosphere to a chilling, unnerving degree. Giacchino’s score pays homage to the classics while maintaining his own musical identity, thus preventing Werewolf by Night from stumbling from homage into cheap imitation — something he does throughout the special.

The horror-fueled atmosphere combined with the stylistic embellishments of Werewolf by Night are absolutely intoxicating. You cannot take your eyes off the screen — even during the explosions of shocking gore and violence. Marvel has had its share of blood and violence, but Werewolf by Night leans into it harder than any of its predecessors. One could argue the black and white cinematography helps lessen these violent explosions, but it in fact does the opposite. It becomes more gruesome and more intense as blood splatters hitting the camera are things we’d never see in a classic Universal monster movie, let alone a Marvel property.

Another strength of Werewolf by Night is the simplicity of its story; in particular its lack of MCU lore and legend. This series is indeed based on a Marvel character and its set in a world where The Avengers exist, but the audience does not need to have watched 15 other films or read decades old comics in order to fully appreciate what’s happening. It’s very much a self-contained story and that feels refreshing. Now, the events and characters of this special could easily spill over into the greater MCU if the creatives at Marvel wanted to. It would not come as a shock to see Man-Thing/Ted or The Bloodstone appear in some sort of connection with the Multiverse or Kang, or even Blade.

Speaking of The Bloodstone, Laura Donnelly is an absolute revelation as Elsa Bloodstone, the estranged daughter of the famed monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone. Donnelly has instantaneous chemistry with her entire cast, including the oddly lovable Man-Thing. While we know little of her backstory — outside of her estrangement from her father — Donnelly is able to imbue decades worth of trauma, anger, resentment and sorrow into Elsa. This lived-in performance makes Elsa not only an engrossing character, but one we should see more of in future MCU properties. The same can be said by Gael Garcia Bernal as the titular Werewolf by Night. Bernal feels like he was born to thrive in the classic black and white cinematic era and he just comes off like such a star in the special. Not saying he isn’t one already, but maybe it’s because of his dramatic resume that you can feel he brings weight and credibility to a fairly wild and fantastical character.

Yet, the two show stealers here are Harriet Sansom Harris and Man-Thing. Harris gives this wonderfully over-the-top performance that is so gigantic you can’t help but appreciate all the scenery she chomps in. She is the perfect villain for this special and is just an absolute joy to match. Then there’s Man-Thing. This character will likely be a divisive one since he’s a big CGI monster that a lot of humor revolves around. Yet, there’s something fun and endearing about “Ted” who is an absolutely fearsome character (particularly how he can melt people) yet oddly lovable like a giant muppet (which is more evident during the ending scene). The chemistry it has with Bernal is just delightful and adds to the enjoyability of the special, and again you’re going to want to see more of “Ted” in the future of the MCU.

Werewolf by Night is not only a fantastic Halloween season watch, but it could prove to be a game changer for Marvel. It shows that Marvel properties don’t have to adhere to specific “comic book movie” trends and tropes, and that self-contained stories within this universe can exist and exist successfully. It also proves that this format can be potential fertile ground for creative, outside the box projects fueled by non-traditional Marvel actors and directors. Yet, even if none of this comes to fruition and Marvel sticks to its tried and true formula, Werewolf by Night can and will stand on its own two feet as a highly creative, highly rewatchable special that can be enjoyed as soon as the spooky season begins.

Werewolf by Night is now streaming on Disney+

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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