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Werewolf by Night: Gods, Monsters, and Caped Crusaders

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

[The following essay contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

From their very inception, Marvel’s spandex-clad vigilantes have shared a certain kinship with the strangely sympathetic beasts found in Universal’s classic creature features. Much like the Gill-man or Frankenstein's modern-day Lazarus, Ben Grimm, Wolverine, and The Incredible Hulk are misunderstood outcasts, ostracized and persecuted for their differences.

With Werewolf by Night, the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally embraces this common thematic DNA. Featuring moody monochromatic cinematography, spooky studio sets, and as many practical effects as the story will allow, the Disney+ Halloween special is a gleefully gory and unapologetically campy love letter to the immortal works of Carl Laemmle. Like those timeless tales, it explores the conflict between men and monsters, crafting a fantastical setting wherein the moral boundary between the two extremes is rarely as black-and-white as the visuals. Indeed, the eponymous lycanthrope is the film’s kindest, most compassionate character; while he does, in fact, transform into a mindless brute beneath the light of the full moon, he takes precautions to minimize the damage that he might cause in his feral state. The “heroic” hunters competing to apprehend him, on the other hand, are cruel, sadistic, and needlessly bloodthirsty; whether their quarry is evil, benign, or even benevolent is totally irrelevant to them, and they slaughter each other just as mercilessly as they would a vampire or wendigo.

After our canine protagonist manages to defeat the corrupt order of cryptid slayers, a rich, saturated palette evocative of Technicolor gradually “bleeds” into the previously grayscale image (accompanied, appropriately enough, by a tinny phonograph recording of “Over the Rainbow”), implying that the villains’ simplistic philosophy has at long last been definitively refuted. As the exhausted survivors of the evening’s violent "festivities" casually discuss dinner plans, the gentle glow of dawn illuminates a brighter future—a more enlightened age in which monsters and superheroes are indistinguishable.

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