Much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s TV efforts have been extremely hit-or-miss, depending upon the viewer. Most fans of the MCU are in agreement that each series has some problems, whether in regards to pacing, character choices or direction. However, it seems that Marvel has been listening to their fans about these complaints and have decided to release a Halloween special presentation on Disney+ in the form of Werewolf By Night, which succeeds where most MCU shows fail.
After the death of renowned monster hunter, Ulysses Lightstone, five monster hunters gather together in his honor. Among these hunters are Jack Russell (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and Ulysses' estranged daughter, Elsa Bloodstone (played by Laura Donnelly). At the funeral the monster hunters are fighting for the prized Bloodstone jewel and become leader of the monster hunters. As the fight for the Bloodstone begins, dark secrets are revealed and death awaits around every corner and the only way Jack and Elsa might survive the night is by working together.
It has been awhile since I have been truly surprised by a Marvel property. The style of Werewolf By Night is reminiscent of classic creature features such as The Wolf Man and Frankenstein, especially with the use of black and white aesthetic and even having the little black dot in the corner show up for a brief second like they used to have in film when it was time to switch projectors in a theater. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness may have been the first MCU property to blend horror elements with Marvel’s signature storytelling, but Werewolf By Night solidified the successful blending of genres.
What I truly appreciate for this Halloween special is the emphasis on practical effects and makeup rather than Marvel’s normal over indulgence of CGI. The makeup for the Werewolf itself is incredible, with the attention to detail making him appear insanely animalistic. Add to that the acrobatic and beastly fight choreography that the beast performed, it truly blurred the line between realistic and fantastical. Plus, the amount of gore the production team got away with is baffling, despite using a black-and-white color grading. Any other Marvel property would have wavered at this possibility, but not Michael Giacchino. He was left unsupervised and birthed the goriest MCU project to date!
And of course, Marvel continues its winning streak of turning obscure Marvel characters into fan favorites. Jack Russell is simple yet complex as Gael Garcia Bernal brought out a gentleness compared to his vicious and hairy werewolf side which also serves as a nice foil compared to many of the other monster hunters in the room. It's also adorably-relatable when he goes to rescue Man-Thing, acting as the older brother to “Ted’s” childlike innocence. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to see Man-Thing in the MCU, after Marvel’s first true attempt at a horror film with Man-Thing back in 2005. Ted has joined the ongoing list of comic characters getting the Groot treatment as I like to call it, and I am here for it! I can’t forget about Laura Donnelly as Elsa Bloodstone, making her as badass, competent and intelligent as any other monster hunter in the area. Plus, she is the perfect straight man to Jack’s character, appearing much more stoic and guarded.
Werewolf By Night was the property that surprised everyone! As Marvel fatigue began to set in, this Halloween special managed to remind everyone why Marvel is at the top. Giacchino's attention to detail is immaculate, making this feel like a throwback to classic creature features more than an MCU property. Taking the risk of adding much more gore than expected presents a layer of maturity that the MCU has been lacking in recent projects. Elsa Bloodstone and Jack Russell are well-casted and well-acted, having great chemistry along with being extremely capable on their own, and the emphasis on practical effects and make-up only elevate the special further. This is a step in a more mature and creative direction for the MCU, one many fans have been craving. Let’s hope Marvel keeps up this momentum!