With the launch of Disney+ within the last few years, Marvel Studios has found an even more expansive and interesting playground to play in with their cinematic universe as they expand onto the television circuit. Sure, some would argue that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or any of the Defenders shows from Netflix, but for logistics sake, I’m only counting what the Marvel Studios logo plays in front of and Kevin Feige was directly involved with. While the Disney+ shows have varied in reception from most, it’s clear that Feige and the rest of Marvel Studios are committed to their plan to making the streaming service a must for those who want to be up-to-date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So after seven live-action series and two animated shows have come out, Marvel brings us not a film or a show but a special presentation with Werewolf by Night.
One of the most interesting aspects to Werewolf by Night is that it’s the directorial debut of composer Michael Giacchino, who… well, if you don’t recognize his name, just look at his IMDb and gawk at how many iconic scores he’s composed in the last few years alone. I was pretty fascinated to see how Giacchino would fare behind the camera considering how many tentpole films he’s composed and surely seen the production process of, and with Werewolf by Night – it’s undeniably one of the most distinct entries to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far and Michael Giacchino completely swings for the fences for what all he’s trying to accomplish in a 50-minute, black and white special. This represents Marvel at their best; when they are loose in restraint for its filmmaker, and you see every single cent spent on the production value, action, effects, etc. throughout. It feels more like an episode of the Twilight Zone or an entry to the Universal Monsters catalog than another puzzle piece to fit into the Marvel Universe.
Werewolf by Night begins with a handful of renowned monster hunters gathering for the funeral of Ulysses Bloodstone, a man who was the king of hunting monsters. Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) is our lead in the mysterious room, even as Ulysses’ estranged daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly) gets in the mix. Elsa is at her father’s estate less to pay her respects but to lay claim to the Bloodstone, a magical, red-glowing stone – something she thought to be her birthright. However, Ulysses’ corpse explains to all the fellow monster hunters that this is also why they’ve been summoned and that they will have to fight one-another for the chance of being the new owner of the stone. Let the fun begin!
From the moment the special begins, it has such a distinct tone and quality to it that is absolutely infectious. Between the way it really tries to look like it’s from another time-period with it’s black and white aesthetic to its surprisingly gnarly action and horror sequences – Michael Giacchino has delivered something truly unique for Marvel fans here. A lot of this is also due in credit to the cast, especially Gael García Bernal who does a wonderful job as the lead. The role of Jack Russell asks a lot from the performer, as one minute we’re supposed to be calmed by the character and the next we’re supposed to be horrified by his actions. Bernal rides this line perfectly.
So much of this special feels like a warm love-letter to classic monster films and the expansive horror mythos that can be found within Marvel Comics history. Giacchino taps into the nichest of easter eggs but also delivers a genuinely compelling story and heart at its core, alongside the scares and surprising amount of blood. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a masterpiece, Werewolf by Night is one of the best things the studio has put out in years and succeeds at being truly unlike anything else in Marvel’s catalog. It’s an absolute blast!