Marvel is always at its most interesting when it takes risks
While not every experiment always works, the mega-franchise always feels a little fresher when they are willing to colour outside the lines of their own franchise formula. With the release of Werewolf by Night on Disney+, Marvel has yet again taken its toys out of the box to try something unique.
Werewolf by Night begins on a dark and stormy night follows Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a monster hunter who joins a group of fellow beastly killers as they converge on Bloodstone Temple after the passing of their wealthy benefactor. In order to claim his powerful inheritance, the group must engage in a mysterious hunt for a vicious monster. However, Jack also has his own secret that threatens his involvement in the game and unleashes the rage of his fellow hunters.
With its new interest in short form ?specials?, Werewolf by Night is somewhat of a refreshing experiment for the MCU. Without investing in 8-10 episodes, we are simply allowed to enjoy a simple story. Although there?s no doubt that that this particular episode will tie into some larger plans somewhere down the line, Werewolf is a tightly-executed, horror feast that can be devoured in less than an hour.
For this generation of Marvel storytelling, that?s saying something.
Although?Werewolf?also checks a lot of the Marvel boxes such as introducing new CGI beasties and potential franchise building, the special feels much smaller in scope in comparison to their other films and TV shows. Focusing on several monster hunters gathered and tasked to kill the most beastly of creatures amongst the maze-like grounds of their deceased benefactor, this is set-up to be one single night of monster mayhem. This is meant to feel like something outside of the MCU and, for the most part, it does so successfully as Werewolf?feels like a classic monster mash from the 1930s. Shooting entirely in black-and-white and featuring sets that border on German Expressionism, the special is an aberration to the brightly-lit world of the MCU. (Though, frankly, the effects here feel more tightly executed than?She-Hulk.)?
It?s also worth noting that the special is a little gorier than traditional Marvel products. Featuring severed limbs and blood splatters, families with younger viewers should note that Werewolf kicks up the violence a notch in order to be more in keeping with the Halloween season. Even so, the gore still remains toned down for the Marvel audience. By blurring the beastly feasts and minimizing the violent visuals, it never leans too far into its brutality.
However, instead of creating a monster to be hated, Marvel takes the edges off its ?with or against us? premise and shows us another side of the beast. Introducing yet another Marvel monster into the fray, we soon quickly realize that this is not a creature to be despised but merely one that is misunderstood. In fact, Werewolf even gives him the name Ted to humanize him even more. (Though, this is apparently also true to the comics.)
In this way, at its heart, Werewolf wants to explore what it means to be the monster. Although Jack can transform into a terrifying werewolf, neither does he approve of his own rampages. (In fact, he even takes precautions in order to keep people safe from his monthly hunts.) As such, the monsters within Werewolf are shown to have a soul of kindness while the human race with brutal and violent beasts. In Werewolf, the humans are fueled by xenophobia and fear, attempting to destroy anything that is different from them. (What?s more in doing so, Marvel continues to set the table for the arrival of the X-Men, who are also despised by the human race.)
Here, the line between man and monster is compassion.
So, even though Werewolf by Night may seem like another cog in the MCU mega-machine?and that?s not incorrect either?its unique style and form keep it fun and fresh. For those looking for Halloween havoc, this tribute to classic horror bares its teeth but still feels like fresh meat.
Werewolf by Night is available on Disney+ on October 7th, 2022.