“Werewolf by Night” is a Marvel “special” for Disney that helps set up “monsters” in Marvel’s already cluttered superhero universe, a comic book adaptation meant as an homage to the classic monster films of the black and white cinema.
As homages go, this may have the (digital) monochromatic look of the various Frankenstein, Wolf Man or King Kong movies of the ’30s and ’40s. But even the most generous reading of what little is here has to conclude it’s pretty inconsequential stuff. Hardcore fans probably won’t mind that. They never do.
It’s also meant to be light and fun, and it never quite is. Maybe a smirk or two is all it manages.
Gael García Bernal plays Jack Russell (snicker), a monster hunter summoned for a “ceremonial hunt” competition with other monster hunters to see who will take over leadership of their guild, and possess the coveted Bloodstone.
Yes, it glows ruby red in the middle of a black and white 53 minute movie. Such a clever touch.
Other hunters played Leonardo Nam, Eugenie Bondurant and Kirk R. Thatcher are also “on the grounds” seeking weapons to use to hunt an unnamed monster, and each other, to get that stone.
They will punch, kick, swordfight, swing battle axes and shoot crossbows at each other in a contest adjudicated by the previous Bloodstone owner’s widow (Harriet Sansom Harris).
Laura Donnelly of TV’s “The Nevers,” sort of the Irish Krysten Ritter, is Jack’s two-fisted, jaded rival and/or teammate. Love interest? Nah. There’s no time. And this is Marvel, remember?
The jokes are the occasional blurts of profanity in the pre-fight and mid-fight trash talk, some cuddly monster interaction and the mummified one-liner that launches the hunt.
“Good luck. I’ll be rotting for you.”
The look is fog machine gloomy, the effects and makeup excellent and the fights right on the cusp of humdrum.
At this point, Marvel could sell its fans pretty much anything, and the thin charms of “Werewolf by Night” prove that, as well as having a hint of “proof of concept” about it. Marvel could do more in this “universe” in the future, but it’s damned certain they couldn’t do much less.
Bernal’s presence means he took his longtime friend Diego Luna’s call, and the “Andor” star’s advice — “Man, get you some DISNEY money!”
Rating:TV-14, bloody violence, mild profanity
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Laura Donnelly, Harriet Sansom Harris, Leonardo Nam, Eugenie Bondurant, Kirk R. Thatcher
Credits: Directed by Michael Giancchino, scripted by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, based on the Marvel comic books. A Marvel Studios/Disney+ release.
Running time: :52