The renowned and adored composer Michael Giacchino's first (near) feature film is titled Werewolf by Night. Giacchino is well recognised for his two decades of score composition for Pixar, Marvel, and Star Trek movies. His most recent work was the magnificent score for The Batman.
Though he has previously produced various short films, Werewolf by Night marks his first attempt at a 53-minute "special presentation" for Marvel Studios. He generally succeeds, too.
In the special, monster hunters assemble for both a competition to see who would use Ulysses Bloodstone's potent weapon next and for his funeral. Werewolf by Night, like other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) storylines, hinges on a MacGuffin, in this case the "Bloodstone" (named after the family). However, a voiceover and early shots of vintage monster study literature subtly introduce that Macguffin.
That introduction appears to establish the mood for a horror story, with the now-lengthy Marvel Studios logo being cut by invisible claws and set to an enormous horror version of the normal music. But as we watch the hunters mingle during the funeral, comedy and a lighter tone gradually overshadow that. A housekeeper flits about whispering things to the legendary hunter's widowed wife while they exchange tales.
It's quite unfortunate that the tone and narrative swiftly change into something more typical from the MCU than what some viewers (including this one) would have hoped given the special's black-and-white cinematography and the film grain filter. However, it is straightforward and helps us settle into the rhythm of what this special does have to offer.
Monsters exist here, but there is no fear.
The special contains some undeniably unexpected moments that border on horror. Ulysses Bloodstone's body speaks to the assembled hunters during the first few minutes, but not through any magical means; rather, it does so because it has been turned into an animatronic. It's a fantastic image that's both humorous and macabre. More blood is shed during the special than at any other point in the MCU's history.
The hunters must navigate a labyrinth to find a creature that has been set free with the Bloodstone lodged in its skin as they compete to be the next to wield the Bloodstone. However, the hunters are not just vying with one another for the monster. They are also free to attack and murder one another in an effort to take control of the stone.
A few attempts at jump scares are made as a result of this premise, but they don't quite succeed because the special isn't concerned with inciting fear or tension in its viewers. The environment allows for some beautiful brutalist labyrinth compositions as well as surprisingly exciting camera movements through the area.
The monsters don't show right away, but when they do, they fit well with the black-and-white setting of the special. especially Man-Thing/Ted (Carey Jones), whose computer-generated image benefits from the reduced lighting. Even though the marketing for the special is quite apparent that Jack is the titular werewolf, it still takes a surprising amount of time for him to appear, and it's treated as a reveal. Right now, the fact that Jack took so long to change is not disappointing. You do, however, wish he had turned earlier when the special improves following his metamorphosis.
Before Jack's metamorphosis, there is some action in the special, although it is not particularly noteworthy. Marvel Traps Avoided And Fallen For Frequent edits and an axe that falls into the typical MCU pitfall of looking more plastic than sharp break up all the flipping and cartwheeling.
For several of Jack's bouts, though, the camera remains steady after he turns, allowing viewers to observe the outstanding choreography made just for this character. Sadly, only Jack's conflicts are like that. Other warriors in the same clash continue to experience the problems of excessive editing and uninspired choreography.
The special's black and white cinematography, along with the film grain and a few cigarette burns, is its biggest asset and gives it a unique visual flair within the MCU. Despite having a low contrast, Giacchino does a wonderful job of making the visuals dynamic. And as was already noted, it even offers a few lovely tableaus. Even though it's a one-off that lasts less than an hour, it's encouraging to see something new in this brand.
Naturally, it's not obvious if this is a one-off or if Marvel/Disney will continue the tale of Man-Thing/Ted and werewolf Jack. Their relationship is endearing, and even if it's just in colour, Man-appearance Thing's makes me want to see more of him. Additionally, a future sequel to this special does not require the inclusion of other characters or more significant MCU plotlines.
Werewolf by Night is unique within the MCU in addition to having a distinctive aesthetic, even though it does not break new ground in terms of action or horror storyline. It's a lighthearted adventure movie that won't frighten anyone but will excite comic book enthusiasts who probably didn't think they'd ever see these characters on screen. And for those who are starting to get tired of Marvel, it's a welcome surprise.