By Jack McLaughlin
“Werewolf by Night” will bring Marvel fans into new territory that breaks free from the comfort zone established by previously released shows and films.
Instead of the predictable lighthearted romp with heroes like Iron Man and Spider-Man, this special is a slow, violent, and at times eerie event with characters the viewer has never been introduced to before.
Taking place on a dark evening, a group of monster hunters are brought together to attempt killing an unknown beast. The winner of this contest will claim the Bloodstone relic and total control over the secret group of hunters.
While this kind of story has been told before, it’s refreshing to see it retold with the budget and talent of a Marvel Studios production.
Gael García Bernal’s portrayal of the elusive Jack Russell is a protagonist who will slowly unveil himself to the viewer, causing your enjoyment of him to steadily increase and by the end you’ll be eager to see where he shows up next.
There aren’t many characters to become invested in. Most are one dimensional and serve the purpose of having competition for the main character as he navigates the contest.
The only other exception to that is Elsa Bloodstone, played by Laura Donnelly. Early on, she and Jack form a mutual bond to escape the contest together for personal gain and their dynamic is serviceable on-screen.
Looming over all the hunters is Verussa Bloodstone, played by Harriet Sansom Harris. She isn’t part of the story besides the start and finish, but her presence on-screen especially with Elsa and Jack gives the viewer a more interesting antagonist than most Marvel projects have to offer.
The action scenes deviate from Marvel’s traditional style a lot, and it can be jarring for viewers not anticipating it. Fights in the special are far more gruesome and intense and while there are points where it can be excessive, it’s far better than most action scenes in anything Marvel has done.
Marvel finally pushing into more mature content is welcomed here for sure. The lack of reliance on big action sequences and humor for something more atmospheric and intense worked wonderfully here.
Style and tone are also where this special differentiates itself. It goes for a classic horror style with a dreary black and white color palette and film grain that is added in digitally. The tone is consistent with the horror films of old, with a sprinkle of humor that feels too modern to be in this story.
Color is used sparingly throughout, giving great importance to the small moments on screen that have it.
The sharp change in style and lack of any connection to other Marvel projects allows this to be one of the rare moments in this series that can stand on its own. This isn’t like other MCU entries that require you to watch a list of middling films to fully understand the story.
To the surprise of no one, especially if you keep up with the MCU, the music here is notably unimpressive except for the theme used in the end credits.
Runtime is the biggest detriment to the special. Clocking in at 53 minutes, which is including the nearly 10-minute credits, there isn’t enough time spent in this story and the viewer is left wanting more by the end.
The pacing quickly brings you from scene to scene to make sure the story can be told in as little amount of time as possible. Simply put, you will want more from this story and will be left a bit disappointed at how brisk it feels.
Considering this is the first big directorial work by composer Michael Giacchino, this is a fantastic preview of what he is capable of as a director and hopefully means this isn’t the last we see of him in the MCU.
Marvel fans will come to appreciate the change of style, especially if you’re becoming tiresome of their most recent efforts.
B+: A dark, gory blast.