Review: ‘Werewolf by Night’ Transforms the Marvel Formula

By Noah Mintie, Current Staff

It appears that once in a full moon, Marvel Studios is still able to crank out a widely beloved film. However, their latest hit brings a long-forgotten ingredient to the formula.

In recent years the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been subject to harsh response from fans and critics alike, both feeling as though the franchise they’ve followed for over a decade has lapsed into becoming a chore driven by hours of Disney+ exclusive content. The latest installment, “Werewolf by Night,” avoids this criticism by creating a simple, easy-to-digest short film that takes heavy inspiration from 1940s cinema, being shot almost entirely in black-and-white. The 55-minute film is free for Disney+ subscribers.

The short runtime of “Werewolf by Night” makes it easy to find time to watch, and its release at Halloween has given it extra media attention. Common praise for the movie addresses the likable and well-established characters, seamlessly implemented retro visual style, and remarkable direction by Michael Giaccchino. This film marks his third directorial effort, but he is best known for composing the soundtrack for many blockbusters over the years, including “Star Wars: Rogue One,” “The Incredibles,” and more recently, “The Batman.”

The film is remarkably well-paced, with unique setpieces and slightly bloody spooks sprinkled in for good measure. In less than an hour, this movie creates a satisfying story while leaving room for these characters to return in the future. Unfortunately, the rest of the Marvel franchise has not had such a luxury in recent years.

Many view the MCU, once known for exciting blockbusters and beloved characters, as having overstayed its welcome in the entertainment industry. Likewise, they feel it is now too much of a commitment. 

“The (MCU) is now, gradually, beginning to feel like an obligation on par with doing your taxes or taking the trash out,” said Justin Carter for a Gizmodo article. “That’s not a position that any IP should be in, let alone one that’s so obsessed with forward momentum as this one.” 

Many have pointed out that there has been more content pushed out in the past two years of the MCU’s Phase Four than in the entire eight-year span of Phases One and Two. There have also been accusations made by the Marvel Studios VFX artists that they are forced to work 60-80 hours per week in poor conditions. This would support the ever-popular accusation that the MCU is simply more wrapped up in quantity than quality, and it shows in their latest works.

There have been eight unique TV series set in the MCU released in the past two years, not counting the spin-off series such as “I Am Groot” or “Marvel Studios: Assembled.” If an audience member wishes to watch all of these shows, the time it takes to see them exceeds 28 hours. If a viewer were to watch two episodes of each show per week, it would take them about three months to watch it all, presuming they watch nothing else, and that doesn’t even count the MCU movies being released in the last two years.

Many cite the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for this massive quantity of TV content, but the MCU seems to show no sign of slowing its roll. Some shows have announced additional seasons, and five new shows are slated to come out in the next year and a half. Faithful fans cannot easily skip these offerings, since characters set up by the Disney+ shows are slated to appear in upcoming movies.

In fact, in order for a viewer to completely understand the events of Sam Raimi’s feature film “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” they must watch the nine-episode TV series “Wandavison,” as it sets up necessary background information for the movie. This means that in order to watch this film, a viewer must watch at least the majority of the 26 movies that preceded it, and a full TV show exclusive to a streaming service not everyone can access.

This creates a divide among viewers. There are those who were once casual fans, now feeling that it’s too much work and are ready to give up, and the diehard fans who are overwhelmed with content, struggling to keep up even if not everything appeals to their taste. This makes it harder for people to get into the franchise. You could once just give them a list of 20 or so movies and go down the list, but now you must also incorporate the hours of Disney+ exclusive TV as well.

This is all driven home by the fact that not all of these shows even have to be shows. The plots of each show, with the exceptions of “What If…?” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” don’t especially adhere to the TV episodic formula. The only reason they are marketed as shows is so that Disney+ can bring people back for new episodes weekly.

In the middle of it all is “Werewolf by Night,” which does everything both fans and Marvel Studios want in under an hour. It gives fans a new movie with a unique visual style and beloved characters without being too much of a time commitment, while also giving the studio a new property to sell Disney+ and merchandise. Sure, it doesn’t keep viewership as strongly as a show, nor does it give audiences as long to get attached to the characters and story, but it balances both well enough to be considered a success.

“Werewolf by Night” calls itself a “Marvel Studios Special Presentation,” which gives it a special intro and implies that there could be more of these short films to come. If it is successful, perhaps more of these balances between brevity and quality will persist in the MCU, which would greatly improve how it’s seen by the public.

The MCU once commanded the public’s attention in a way unlike any other IP. It was able to produce up to three movies a year without losing relevance, and it’s a shame to see such an ambitious enterprise flame out. An abundance of content can only damage a brand, making each individual installment feel increasingly less special. Gone is the command of public attention that came with each movie, and now the only attention it receives is from those who wish the Marvel cash cow be rested.

“Werewolf by Night” signals a change for the better in the MCU formula, but for now fans are left hoping for the best from a studio trapped in oversaturated content.

(Images are official publicity material.)

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