'Teen Wolf: The Movie' Review: We Miss Dylan O'Brien – The Daily Beast

Scott McCall and his wolf pack return in an overstuffed Paramount+ movie plagued by laughable special effects and fan service. And where’s Stiles?!
The massive success of the Twilight saga in the late 2000s and early 2010s birthed an entire industry of fantasy content featuring sultry vampires and shirtless werewolves. One of its most popular descendants was the MTV series Teen Wolf, which is technically a reboot of the 1985 comedy film starring Michael J. Fox, but is more closely related to the mysterious, foggy (so much fog), and erotic world of Twilight mastermind Stephanie Meyer.
The show arrived in 2011, when MTV was trying (and often failing) to establish itself as a destination for scripted television about young people, with series like the critically acclaimed Awkward., The Hard Times of RJ Berger, and the controversial Skins remake. But Teen Wolf, presumably thanks to a built-in sci-fi/fantasy fanbase, sunk its teeth into the public in a way none of its network peers could. The show’s male leads, Tyler Posey and Dylan O’Brien—who played Scott McCall and Stiles Stilinski, respectively—became international teen heartthrobs (O’Brien continues to be a top-tier internet boyfriend), and the show became a huge facet of Tumblr, providing much of the site’s wildly popular fan fiction.
After 100 episodes and nearly six years off the air, Teen Wolf is officially back with a feature-length film premiering on Paramount+ this Thursday. The show’s creator and writer, Jeff Davis, brings back some of the series’ most fearsome bad guys for a final—but who can be sure?—battle between Beacon Hill’s good and evil supernatural communities. The film also resuscitates werewolf hunter and Scott’s love interest Allison Argent (Crystal Reed), whose unexpected death in Season 3—much in the vein of The O.C. killing off Marissa Cooper—sent shockwaves through the fan community.
Unfortunately, Allison’s resurrection can’t make up for the absence of Teen Wolf’s No. 1 MVP, Stiles. Not only did O’Brien’s character provide comic relief (and eye candy) as Scott’s guileless sidekick, but he grew into an increasingly layered, integral character as the series went on. Expanding the Teen Wolf universe without him is sort of like making a Sex and the City reboot without Samantha or an O.C. movie without Seth Cohen. Sure, you can try your best to fill in those gaps with other storylines and new characters, but audiences will always be left a little disappointed.
I felt similarly watching Teen Wolf: The Movie, which centers around Allison’s complicated reemergence. Set 15 years after we last saw the gang, the movie opens with Scott, Allison’s best friend Lydia Martin (Holland Roden), and her father, Chris (JR Bourne), receiving cryptic messages alluding to Allison’s life. After gathering clues and wielding their magical abilities, they’re able to resuscitate her from a state of limbo (or “bardo”). Unfortunately, Allison has lost all of her memory, minus the convenient knowledge that she hunts werewolves. It’s also unclear whether the resurrected Allison is an illusion, specifically a vessel for the show’s ugliest villain, the Nogitsune, who has a ruthless appetite for pain and chaos.
Meanwhile, the Beacon Hills police, a new ally named Hikari (Amy Workman), and a slew of supporting characters (Colton Haynes’ Jackson Whittemore, Shelley Hennig’s Malia Tate, and, of course, Tyler Hoechlin’s Derek Hale) are trying to locate an unknown arsonist, seemingly in connection to the Nogitsune. Additionally, they’re avoiding a group of masked fighters known as the Oni (who have always looked too much like The Jabbawockeez to be taken seriously) as they mercilessly slaughter civilians on the Nogitsune’s behalf.
The thing about the Teen Wolf series—and a lot of sci-fi entities—is that beneath the onslaught of mythical creatures, enemies, and supernatural laws, there’s only an extremely basic mission. Unfortunately, in the case of Teen Wolf: The Movie, the film’s mysteries aren’t labyrinthine enough—nor are the many action scenes compelling enough—to carry a film that’s over two hours long.
Additionally, the movie is so plot-heavy that viewers don’t get an opportunity to sit with the characters they invested six years in or learn much about their current lives. The closest we get to a gripping emotional thread is the relationship between Derek and his 15-year-old son Eli, who has yet to inherit his werewolf abilities; to his credit, Hoechlin is still a convincingly endearing father figure.
Unfortunately, this revival feels less like a capital-M movie or an “event” and more like a typical episode of Teen Wolf, only with an added hour. Historically, movie spinoffs of cable series have been limited by these artistic constraints. However, as the lines between film- and television-making have become more blurred—for better or worse—it’s strange that Teen Wolf: The Movie isn’t splashier or produced on a larger scale than the original show. The action, arguably the most disengaging part of the series, is still lackluster. The special effects are still laughable. The dialogue is almost entirely straightforward exposition. And the resolution is too neat.
This could very well be exactly what some fans want, as Teen Wolf has never really ventured outside of its formulaic box. And with a revival, which is ultimately an act of fan service, doing more is certainly a risk. Still, I’d argue that centering a reboot around a character who viewers weren’t really asked to think about for the latter half of the series (and who appears mostly as a cypher in the movie) is a big swing.
Overall, this particular revival is missing something that makes it feel genuinely special and worthy of a comeback, aside from MTV’s dwindling relevance. That thing is probably Dylan O’Brien.
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