Werewolf By Night Review – Marvel Studios' Spooky Special Presentation Shows The MCU Has Range
With spooky season heating up, Marvel Studios is throwing its hat in the ring with its own Halloween fare. Werewolf By Night introduces yet another new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it tells a self-contained story of monsters, those who hunt them, and a potential battle to the death between everyone involved. And although this may be the first Marvel Studios “special presentation,” as it’s being dubbed, it’s also a hopeful sign of what’s to come.
Most of Phase 4 of the MCU has been a mixed bag. New heroes are introduced in movies or TV shows that don’t feel all that different from the ones we’ve been watching for the last decade, with no real hint of when or if we’ll meet them again. Will the Eternals pop back up? Remember when Charlize Theron appeared at the end of the last Doctor Strange movie? Where, exactly, is Shang-Chi at this point? There are so many lingering questions connected to TV shows and films with stakes that are often ridiculously high.
Werewolf By Night is different, though. It’s different in a way that She-Hulk is different. They are unlike things we’ve seen in the MCU before, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. While She-Hulk continues to stick the landing week-in-week-out as a workplace comedy, Werewolf By Night is a live-action throwback to the horror of old.
The story unfolds at Bloodstone Manor, the home of the deceased leader of a crew of monster hunters. Now, one of the hunters has to take possession of a mysterious jewel, allowing them to control the group. To gain possession, they have to hunt an unimaginable monster on the manor’s grounds–and potentially kill each other in the process, if they have to.
It’s a story that’s told incredibly well, without overstaying its welcome. With a runtime of just under an hour, Werewolf By Night is filled with great fight sequences, some genuinely scary-looking monsters, and the kind of character development for the leads that will leave you hoping that they have some kind of future in the MCU. And it does it all with one of Marvel Studios’ best-looking projects to date.
Almost entirely in black and white and filmed on large and gorgeous sets, this special plays like a throwback to an era before everything was shot in front of a green screen. Bloodstone Manor feels real because, well, it more or less is. It may not be an actual mansion you can go visit, but instead as a lavish set that was built for the production. The attention to detail is stellar, and it wouldn’t even be a surprise to learn that even the outdoor scenes as the manor were filmed on that same set, much like TV shows of old.
Filling those sets is a very entertaining cast of characters. The various monster hunters have all been designed to catch the eye, even in black and white, and are begging for more development. That said, the two you’re going to care most about are Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly)–both pulled from the comics. Russell is the werewolf in question, who also happens to be a monster hunter. Elsa, as you can probably tell by her surname, is the daughter of the late Ulysses Bloodstone.
These two play off one another well, with Else spending most of the hour-long special vacillating between trusting Jack and wondering if she’d be better off killing him. Jack, on the other hand, has his own reason for being there for the deadly competition for the jewel.
There’s another character in this that, if you’ve seen the trailer for the special, you likely know about. Marvel Comics character Man-Thing makes his MCU debut in Werewolf By Night, and the introduction couldn’t be much better. The CGI on this monster looks excellent and his interactions with Jack are genuinely funny. It’s clear the two have a history together, and hopefully, they’ll feature together at some point in the MCU’s future.
Although this may be Marvel Studios’ first holiday special (the Guardians of the Galaxy special arrives later this year), it’s something that should become a regular occurrence, especially if this is what the end result looks like. Given the endless amount of horror comics Marvel has put out since its inception, there are certainly more stories that could be told. Additionally, a Disney+ that digs into the history between Jack and Man-Thing would be fantastic to watch.
Whatever the case, Werewolf By Night is an astounding success. It may not overtly connect to the MCU in a way that makes it essential viewing for fans of the franchise, but much like She-Hulk, it’s the kind of side quest adventure that Marvel Studios needs more of. Not everything can be about tying back to whatever the next Avengers movie is–though certainly both She-Hulk and this special presentation could end up doing that down the road. The beauty, though, is that they don’t have to.
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