Werewolf by Night Review: MCU Horror TV Special Isn’t Anything Special
Werewolf by Night Review: MCU Horror TV Special Isn’t Anything Special Marvel tries a new avenue, but it seems too …

Werewolf by Night Review: MCU Horror TV Special Isn’t Anything Special

Marvel tries a new avenue, but it seems too afraid to jump in with both feet.

Werewolf by Night Review: MCU Horror TV Special Isn’t Anything Special

Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Gael García Bernal as Jack Russell in Werewolf by Night

  • Werewolf by Night released October 7 on Disney+, Disney+ Hotstar
  • It is the first television special in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • Werewolf by Night runtime is 53 minutes, including credits

Werewolf by Night — out Friday on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a new dimension. On paper at least. It's the first TV special that Marvel Studios has produced. (TV special is basically a fancy term for an hour-long movie.) The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special — coming in December, also to Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — was set to be the first, but Werewolf by Night emerged out of nowhere last month at Disney's D23 Expo 2022. More importantly, Werewolf by Night is also the first full-on MCU horror flick, though we sort of went there with the Sam Raimi-directed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen, earlier this year.

Intriguingly, Werewolf by Night comes from an unexpected source too. It's directed by Michael Giacchino, the guy otherwise known for composing indistinguishable background scores for several Marvel movies, including the Cumberbatch-led Doctor Strange, Thor: Love and Thunder with Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, and Tom Holland's Spider-Man trilogy. That guy is doing a horror creature feature about monster hunters now? Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige was taken aback by Giacchino's choice of the character too. But as Feige heard more, he became more enthusiastic — and suggested Giacchino incorporate the swamp creature Man-Thing.

Giacchino said he was inspired by American horror films from the 1930 and 40s. To his credit, Werewolf by Night mimics the style of these decades well. For one, the Marvel TV special is entirely presented in black-and-white — this isn't a first for the MCU, given we had an episode or two of WandaVision do that — with “cigarette burns” appearing in places to complete the look. What gives away the modernness though is the depth of field and the use of distortion lenses. Giacchino, who is also naturally the composer here, even brings in songs from the late 30s, with one by Vera Lynn and another from The Wizard of Oz.

What works best for Werewolf by Night is that it all feels tangible. Unlike the prevalent overuse of CGI and virtual backgrounds in the MCU, the first Marvel TV special relies largely on practical effects, be it with the creatures, the action, or the surroundings. Werewolf by Night does well to balance violence and humour — the screenplay comes from Heather Quinn (Hawkeye) and Peter Cameron (WandaVision) — and even packages a bit of heart. Within all the hunting and running around, it finds moments of quiet with the lead characters, as they delve into family and generational trauma.

But even though it might be the first proper MCU horror tale, I don't think it's effective in that regard. Sure, there are moments when blood streams down your screen — Werewolf by Night escaped with a less punishing rating, because the blood isn't red thanks to the whole thing being in black-and-white — but I can't recall any genuine scares. An even bigger problem is that it's too short. Wrapping up at 48 minutes — the length of one Loki episode or thereabouts — Werewolf by Night doesn't have enough time to flesh out its characters. It gets over before it really even begins.

An animated lore dump at the start of Werewolf by Night tells us that famous monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone (voiced by Richard Dixon) has died, leaving behind the Bloodstone relic, a powerful stone that's very useful for monster hunters. As per Ulysses' wishes, a “ceremonial hunt” has been organised. Whosoever kills the beast and grabs the Bloodstone relic will be designated the “new leader of their fight against monsters”, as Ulysses's widow Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) says early in Werewolf by Night to the gathered group of monster hunters.

Said group includes a bunch of faces that really don't matter. Save for Ulysses's estranged daughter Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) who left her father's side many years ago — Verussa calls her a “disappointment”, while Elsa makes a face when Verussa calls herself Ulysses's lover. And our protagonist, Jack Russell/ Werewolf by Night (Gael García Bernal). Werewolf by Night tries to make a meal out of its lead's alter ego, but that only works if you haven't seen the poster, the trailer, or literally any piece of marketing. (And now, this review. Sorry?)

Harriet Sansom Harris as Verussa in Werewolf by Night
Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Mild spoilers ahead for Werewolf by Night.

The first half of the first Marvel TV special plays out as part setup and part Hunger Games, with the second half devoted to examining Jack's other side. Everyone, including the monster, is fair game. And given that the monster hunters have 200 kills between them, they don't pull punches.

Thanks to the expanded content rating, Werewolf by Night is able to showcase a bunch of brutal kills. The best ones are reserved for a climactic third-act sequence, in which Giacchino truly taps into the menacing and unforgiving side of his title character. But the rest of it can be a bit humdrum — for instance, after being set up for several minutes, the whole monster hunt business is resolved very quickly and easily.

Most of that is partly down to the concise time frame allotted to Werewolf by Night. Though it's commendable that Marvel Studios is open to experimentation, I'm not sure it's committing to the right projects. The last one was the shorts series I Am Groot, and there was little of value there as well. But while Vin Diesel's talking tree has a big enough place in the ever-expanding MCU, it's entirely unclear how Werewolf by Night connects to any of it. For now, it feels as though Jack and Co. exist in a parallel world.

Even Marvel Studios itself seems noncommittal on the whole enterprise. Co-executive producer Brian Gay refused to provide a straight answer when asked about the future of Werewolf by Night. On the other hand, Gay hinted that he wants more monsters to appear in upcoming projects – but will that happen with mainline MCU films and series, or on the side like this?

Ulysses Bloodstone in Werewolf by Night
Photo Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Werewolf by Night begins by revealing a new “Marvel Studios Special Presentation” animated intro before the usual Marvel Studios sequence. The fact they went to the effort of making one could suggest that we can expect more of them in the future.

The issue is that Marvel has so many (weird) characters now — many of them introduced in The Multiverse Saga, which began post-Endgame — that you wonder how many will be forgotten when we get to the next Avengers movies. Werewolf by Night seems like a prime candidate.

Werewolf by Night is released Friday, October 7 at 12am PT/ 12:30pm IST on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar wherever available.

Why are they still making more Harry Potter? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

Andor Review: Grown Up Star Wars Pushes the Galaxy, Just as Rogue One

Taking Star Wars on TV beyond Jedi and bounty hunters.

Andor Review: Grown Up Star Wars Pushes the Galaxy, Just as Rogue One

Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in Andor

  • Andor releases September 21 at 12:30pm IST on Disney+ Hotstar
  • A total of 12 episodes on Andor season 1, finale on November 23
  • Diego Luna and Genevieve O'Reilly lead the cast of Andor

Andor — premiering Wednesday on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — revisits Diego Luna's title character Cassian Andor, first introduced on Rogue One nearly six years ago. (It's set five years prior to that Star Wars film though, where the Rebel Alliance is in its infancy, and Andor wants nothing to do with a grand resistance.) Fittingly for a movie that was darker than everything in its universe and expanded the definition of what Star Wars could be, its TV prequel spin-off is more grown up than anything we've seen before from the galaxy far, far away. Andor visits a brothel in the opening 10 minutes, and he kills two men later that episode. This is not a hero character, just as he wasn't on Rogue One, where he killed an injured informant because he was a liability.

It's only appropriate then that Andor's boldness comes from Rogue One co-writer and uncredited reshoots director Tony Gilroy, who assumes the position of creator, showrunner, and head writer on the new Star Wars series. (He wasn't first choice though, just as on Rogue One.) Working with Nightcrawler writer-director brother Dan Gilroy, and House of Cards creator and showrunner Beau Willimon, Tony Gilroy and Co. craft a Star Wars series befitting their talents. At one end, there's office and Imperial politik. On the other, we've hardened rebels always afraid, scrounging on the fringes, and fighting for their survival. But they also have something in common. The Rebels view each other with suspicion, just as their counterparts in their sleek white offices running the Empire.

There's a degree of murkiness in every corner of Andor — and that makes sense. After all, there are no Jedi here chasing a purity of mind or heart, no do-gooders who believe in the Force, and no heroes with a hurrah can-do spirit willing to put everything on the line. This is the gritty end of the line, following the non-lightsaber folks who must get by with ingenuity, negotiation, and hardiness. It's about those sketching out an existence on the fringes of the Empire. That makes Andor more relatable and ground-to-earth — its characters don't have superpowers or specialised armour — though that also means it's anything unlike what Star Wars has trained us to expect, even on the small screen. I expect it might disappoint some, but this is exactly what's expected from the guy behind Rogue One.

Five years prior to Rogue One, Andor begins with Cassian Andor (Luna) based on the desert world of Ferrix, where he lives with his adoptive mother Maarva (Fiona Shaw, from the Harry Potter films) and droid B2EMO, who's simply known as Bee to Andor. While B2EMO happily does his bidding, it feels left out as Andor doesn't involve it on his adventures. But their time together is at an end. After an incident on the corporate-run planet of Morlana One, Andor is forced on the run. He's assisted by black market dealer and Rebel recruit Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård, from Chernobyl), who pulls him into the fledgling resistance's earliest schemes. We might know where he's headed, but for now, Andor is essentially a paid-for mercenary.

This occupies four episodes that run between 30–40 minutes — all critics, including I, had access to a third of Andor's first season — but that's only because the Star Wars series makes room for a variety of other faces.

One of them involves a young Andor, or rather “Kassa”, on his birth planet of Kenari. In present day, we have Morlana deputy inspector Syril Karn (Kyle Soller, from Poldark) who makes it his personal mission to chase down Andor. The Star Wars series also makes room for Imperial officer Dedra Meero (Denise Gough, from Too Close), who has Andor on her radar too. There's Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona, from Morbius), a friend of Andor's on Ferrix who fixes machines and is pulled into a revenge mission. And lastly, there's Imperial senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly, returning from Rogue One as with Luna) on the galaxy's capital Coruscant, who's trying to do good within Imperial constraints while secretly trying to found the Rebel Alliance.

Each of these characters, and their situations as a result, is an addition to Andor. Through Mothma, the new Star Wars series hits at the risks of operating from the heart of the Empire. This was hinted at but never explored in Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Dedra's case, she is pushing for change — or rather, furthering her own rise up the ladder — within Imperial bureaucratic structures, but it's not in the name of the greater good as with Mothma. Dedra is not just battling a monolithic system though, but also one that's filled with men who've failed upwards.

With Bix and Syril, it's more primal desires. Both have experienced loss, and to fill that hole in their lives, they go after something that could give their life meaning. And with the Kenari flashback, Andor digs at what Star Wars has always been, in some way. In its stated desire to bring order to galaxy, the Empire has a high need for organisation, as is evident from its minimalist design principles. This flattens cultures, peoples and worlds that stand in its way, who lose their livelihoods and are displaced — or worse killed — for the Empire's grand plans. While Rogue One showed what an armed occupation can look like, Andor presents a more mundane but equally disastrous scenario.

Given the tone https://jiji.ng/ of the new Star Wars series, Luna plays a grimmer version of Cassian Andor who's only in it for himself right now. Though she's second billed, there isn't enough of O'Reilly in the first four episodes. But in her brief presence, she brings shades of vulnerability and frustration to a Mon Mothma who's years away from commanding Rebel Alliance. Third-billed Skarsgård is having to play double duty — I cannot say more than that — and there's a gruffness to his Luthen Rael. He's clearly someone who's seen a lot of the world.

Arjona and Gough, who are fourth and fifth billed respectively, have very little to do in Andor's first four episodes. Arjona's Bix Caleen does get more screen time. The sixth-billed Soller, meanwhile, has a big presence across the first three episodes as Syril Karn. He has a maverick sense of authority that backfires — sort of like the mirror version of what happened to Oscar Isaac's pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

It's smart to have a range of supporting characters, especially when Andor has the longest run of any Star Wars TV series yet. Ewan McGregor-led Obi-Wan Kenobi was technically the shortest at six episodes, though The Book of Boba Fett only devoted five episodes to its title character given the other two were more like The Mandalorian season 2.5. Speaking of, the Baby Yoda show had been the longest so far with eight episodes apiece for both of its seasons. But while The Mandalorian is much more episodic, Andor is a lot more serialised.

Stellan Skarsgård as Luthen Rael, Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma in Andor
Photo Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Having seen four of the 12 episodes — you can call it the first of three acts, given Luna has described making Andor like a “very long movie” — I'm intrigued to see how they handle the rest of it. That also means that this is by no means a final verdict. But what's been refreshing to see is that Star Wars can stand for something else than the middling tales of Jedi and bounty hunters we've been served for the last couple of years. For far too long has this franchise been happy to retread ground, mine nostalgia, revisit the past, and call it a day. And even though Andor is a prequel to a prequel, it still feels it's breaking new ground.

Andor premieres Wednesday, September 21 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. A new episode will air every Wednesday around 12:30pm IST/ 12am PT until November 23. In India, Andor is available in English and Hindi.

Why are they still making more Harry Potter? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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