*Warning: the following article contains spoilers for Werewolf by Night*
Werewolf by Night is incredible. And it almost feels like a miracle that it’s here, especially coming off the heels of the highly formulaic and bog-standard She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. For a year and a half now, I’ve been saying that for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to move forward and keep their audiences engaged, they need to break the mold and trust their filmmakers’ vision consistently. It’s why projects like Moon Knight, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Ms. Marvel work so well, and stuff like Black Widow, What If…?, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, and the dreadful Thor: Love and Thunder don’t.
Werewolf by Night immediately sets itself apart from the rest of the MCU by presenting itself in black and white (aside from color flourishes whenever the red Bloodstone is near) and by using (hallelujah!) practical effects for its titular character (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and Man-Thing (Carey Jones). And they look infinitely better than whatever the hell She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is doing with its CGI-driven main character. I kid you not; if Tatiana Maslany’s She-Hulk were done practically, on top of CGI enhancements, it would look far better than what it’s currently looking.
There were some initial doubts about how the Werewolf would look, but he looks terrific. It’s intentionally campy, harkening back to films like The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, and, yes, even Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The ominous voiceover narration at the movie’s beginning screams Vincent Price. At the same time, the Werewolf’s off-screen transformation celebrates how the creature has consistently traumatized yet fascinated audiences since its first cinematic iteration. Giacchino understands the unique physicality of the Werewolf and crafts one heck of a climax that’s equal parts bloody (the black and white seem to allow for lots of blood to spill without the special to be rated TV-MA) and cathartic.
Yes, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a Werewolf lose control and start to exact revenge on the Bloodstones, and it would’ve been far more incredible if Marvel had released it on the big screen. Zoë White’s black and white photography looks immaculate, cigarette burns and all, and its climax would look especially grand in IMAX. So many practical tricks beg to be witnessed in a cinema with a riotous crowd who think they expect another satisfying foray into the MCU. Their expectations are immediately subverted as soon as its first action setpiece begins.
Werewolf by Night works mainly because it’s a perfect love letter to genre cinema, which has been the gateway for many film lovers as a child to discover more unique films as they descend the rabbit hole of genre works. Universal Monsters seems to be the blueprint for Werewolf by Night. Still, Giacchino also pays tribute to the creation of George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper, Rod Sterling, and The Twilight Zone. Hell, Werewolf by Night is a better Twilight Zone tribute than the entirety of WandaVision. It leans into the wonderful, albeit a strange world of monsters better than most modern “creature-driven” films have any right to be and unfolds a spectacle unlike any other in the grandest way possible.
As a filmmaker, Giacchino knows when (and how) to up the intensity and make the audience invest themselves in the story from its first black-and-white frame to its last. But he’s also a fantastic composer and crafts an impeccable score that harkens back to sweeping orchestrations of Jerry Goldsmith in Planet of the Apes and Poltergeist. It feels highly reminiscent and adds to the catharsis the audience will experience when Jack Russell transforms himself into a Werewolf and goes. At. It.
As Russell, there couldn’t have been a better fit for the role than Gael Garcia Bernal. He shares amazing chemistry with Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone, who has her fair share of kickass moments during action scenes. However, the real show stealer of the picture is Man-Thing (or Ted), portrayed with incredible humanity by Carey Jones. While Man-Thing is in the film for spare moments, he is not wasted. I won’t spoil anything regarding Man-Thing, but I’ll say this: I hope to see him again in the MCU, whether in a film, television series, or special. It doesn’t matter where. We need more Man-Thing, and now.
I also hope that Werewolf by Night won’t be the last venture into full-fledged horror for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Moon Knight and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had supernatural instances (the Heka Priest and Zombie Strange), they were not entirely horror productions. Werewolf by Night is proud to be the MCU’s first horror film, hopefully giving Marvel fans a gateway venture into genre cinema (which always has, and will always be the most refined form of moviemaking) and craving for more horror-driven productions in that world as well. If Michael Giacchino wants to direct another Marvel special of that stature, he should have free reign. Scratch that; give him a feature film. If anything, Werewolf By Night proves that he deserves more directing gigs as soon as possible.
Werewolf by Night is now available to stream on Disney+.