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Marvel and Disney+’s “Werewolf by Night” is a great project in concept, but less so in execution. On paper, it should be a home run. Existing somewhere between a TV show and a movie, this standalone 53-minute adventure/thriller is like a one-off comic book, something that should allow for more freedom of creative expression, the stuff that often gets dulled by stretching something out to meet multiple episodes or hammering too many ideas into an overstuffed feature. It’s an homage to Universal horror legends—at least it should be—helmed by a legendary composer, Michael Giacchino, making his debut in the director’s chair after helming two shorts. It’s got a great cast, fun premise, and won’t wear out its welcome. So what happened? For the most part, “Werewolf by Night” is a modestly entertaining diversion, but one can’t shake how it doesn’t add up to as much as it could have been with a more ambitious team behind it.
The infamous monster killer Ulysses Bloodstone has died. His widow Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) has gathered some of the world’s most infamous hunters to basically take his throne, arriving on a stormy, black-and-white night. Most of the hunters lack in definition or personality—which is a problem—but the mysterious Jack (Gael García Bernal) clearly hides a secret while Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) comes to the night’s events with some heavy baggage. The estranged daughter of Ulysses never really liked Verusa and doesn’t understand the point of the game she’s playing, telling the hunters that they will be a part of a legendary hunt this evening. Oh, and did I mention that Jack is the title character, a monster himself? Or that he has a buddy that comic fans will recognize, nicknamed Ted and better known as Man-Thing?
It sounds like a lot for a “Marvel Special Presentation,” right? It should be. So why does “Werewolf by Night” seem so slight? Why is it somehow too long and too short at the same time? It’s a script that's lost between a short film and a feature, too overcrowded for the former and too thin for the latter. It’s a project that demanded a few more twists or memorable characters to give it more weight. And it doesn’t even have quite the Universal Monster Movie style that one hopes for given its premise. Sure, there are some fun B&W visuals, and, of course, the score is arguably the MVP, but I wanted the chains to get taken off this streaming monster in a way that’s overly stylish. Don’t just dip your toe in a legendary style, jump right in with both feet.
So what keeps “Werewolf” from being a disaster? It’s one of those projects that’s never aggressively bad or good. It’s just kind of there, forgettable by the end of the weekend on which it drops. To be fair, it helps that the always-good Bernal seems to be having a lot of fun, and Donnelly finds a nice register of bitter heroism. They’ll be interesting to see in future productions—once again, we have a Disney+ project feels mostly like a way to introduce new characters into subsequent MCU offerings. And maybe that will give this project more weight in hindsight when we've seen future adventures of Elsa and Jack. For now, it’s a perfectly pleasant diversion that never transforms into its full potential.
On Disney+ today.
Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell
Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone
Harriet Sansom Harris as Verussa
Al Hamacher as Billy Swan
Kirk R. Thatcher as Jovan