Werewolf by Night: Monsters Roar into the MCU

Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Entertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s blockbuster Avengers: Endgame was released in 2019, Marvel fans have sparked considerable debate. With the constant stream of new MCU content in terms of movies and now TV shows, fans have begun to wonder whether the franchise has lost its way. Some point to its most recent cinematic outings, like Eternals, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder, citing their weaker scripts and insubstantial premises as evidence that the franchise has lost its magic. Others point to the new shows, like Ms. Marvel and the MCU’s most recent––and weakest––entry, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, citing that Marvel has become overly formulaic, focusing on quantity over quality. 

It is not difficult to see the validity of these claims. The franchise has indeed failed to impress on more than one occasion. However, the franchise is far from the end of its days. While it sometimes struggles to meet expectations, it still has many new greats, such as WandaVision, Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and more. Its latest showcase, and the first presented in a unique TV special/short film format, Werewolf by Night, is another prime example of why the MCU is still thriving. This new short film presents many unique ideas by exploring a brand new corner of the MCU: monsters. With a great storyline, stellar performances, freshly gory visuals, and a loyal execution of its source material that nods to 1930s-’40s monster classics, Werewolf by Night is another strong installment in the MCU––promising exciting new directions for the series.

Werewolf by Night follows a group of monster hunters coming together to honor the late Ulysses Bloodstone, the most revered monster hunter of all. At the same time, the group must fight for ownership of Bloodstone’s most prized possession: the Blood Stone, which brings massive strength, protection, and power to those who yield it. They must defeat a powerful monster and kill each other in a competition to get it. While most hunters are there to get the stone, Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) is there to rescue the monster, a friend of his named Ted. As this continues, Russell must fight to keep his true identity under wraps––as a werewolf. Unfortunately, this makes him technically an enemy of the hunters, thus making it a dangerous secret to reveal. To rescue his friend, Russell teams up with Bloodstone’s estranged, outcast daughter, Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), so she can get the stone and stop the family tradition of hunting monsters. Together, the pair makes great strides in stopping the other hunters and rescuing Ted––even if Russell fails to hide his dangerous side from them.

The story is both exciting and rejuvenating. After many unsatisfying (although still entertaining) entries, Werewolf by Night provides a new kind of tale. Instead of relying on the standard superhero formula, it harkens back to monster mash recipes of old, such as the 1930s films Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy. This short film wastes no time differentiating itself from the rest of the series, using a darker tone to justify its existence without losing its humorous edge. A story about a group of hunters slaughtering each other for a relic is quite dark, so the short film would have failed if the creators had gone for a more typical MCU tone. The film uses many unusual elements and storytelling techniques to establish the project’s new tone and intentions, breathing new life into the MCU. The story is the most robust component of the film, making for a wholly stimulating experience.

The cast is also solid. Bernal and Donnelly are charming. Bernal portrays an honest, kind demeanor, making his character feel friendly and polite. His performance anchors the story to more lighthearted roots and keeps the story from falling too far down the gruesome rabbit hole. Donnelly comes off as calm, collected, and coolly observant. Her lack of care makes her utterly magnetic, and her devilish charm adds to her sophistication. Her performance also echoes that of Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), a delightful sight on its own and a reminiscent call back to Ritter’s time on the Netflix-Marvel series Jessica Jones. Together, Bernal and Donnelly have remarkable chemistry. As the saying goes, opposites attract, and these two opposing personalities make glorious character conflicts and interactions. The rest of the cast is also superb, making for a solid ensemble.

The characters are decently developed but need more subtlety. Many of the character beats present in the film are simplistic or, at the very least, painfully obvious. The characters feel rudimentary in design, limited by bland dialogue and unsubtle realizations. Given the circumstances, they feel as three-dimensional as possible, but they could stand much taller with tweaks in the dialogue. Plus, only the two central characters survive; the rest die by the film’s end. As a result, these other characters feel wasted in this film and the MCU as a whole. Many play more prominent roles in the comics, so seeing them die so soon ruins any potential they could have in future installments. If the creators spent more time fleshing out its central characters and utilizing its side ones more substantially, Werewolf by Night would feel much more complete and vital to the rest of the series.

The visuals, for the most part, are solid. While some deaths and characters resemble video game graphics, the film’s CGI holds up more often than not. Making the film black and white until the very end is also an intriguing choice. It not only makes the film feel older (and thus more fitting for the 1930s monster era, to which it is a nod), but it also elegantly enhances the film’s darker tone. This is mainly because the color scheme allows for more gore, as blood and guts are not easily discernible in black and white. Moreover, because of the color scheme, Werewolf by Night is the goriest MCU piece to date, with literal beheadings, mutilations, and brutal burnings littered throughout. This is a refreshing sight for the franchise, as its lack of gore in past films made many fights and deaths feel unrealistic. This could indicate a gorier future for the MCU, which would ground it in reality more.

Overall, Werewolf by Night is a very successful MCU short film. It pushes the boundaries of the superhero formula, providing a unique tale in a franchise of repetitive stories. With the help of solid performances, fascinating visual choices, and a stellar story, the film reinvigorates the franchise with much-needed quality, even if it lacks character roundedness and digital mastery. If the MCU continues with these kinds of projects, it will undoubtedly only get better from here.

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