The Marvel wing of Disney+ is a mixed bag, but Werewolf By Night represents a step in the right direction for the MCU on TV. Stemming from the horror corner of Marvel Comics, Werewolf By Night doesn’t really fit into the overall MCU, and that is the second-best thing about it. Written by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, and directed by composer Michael Giacchino—who also provides the music, naturally—Werewolf is mercifully, blessedly, free of MCU chains. Oh, there are a few hints here and there of the larger world beyond this story’s borders, but by and large, Werewolf follows in Andor’s path in thankfully leaving Easter eggs at the door and concentrating just on the world of this one character, in this one story. Billed as a “special presentation”, Werewolf is a self-contained, one hour adventure story that riffs on the horror specials of a bygone era.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Jack, a monster hunter with over one hundred kills to his name. He is gathering with the crème de la crème of monster hunters to fight for the Bloodstone, an artifact that helps hunters in their quest to rid the world of monsters. Jack shows up in a spiffy suit (costume design by Mayes Rubio) with white paint on his face, a nod to his ancestors, he says to a fellow hunter. He’s cool and stylish and not as obviously bloodthirsty as his peers. At just fifty-two minutes, Werewolf doesn’t take the time to flesh out the other hunters, except for Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly). The rightful heiress to the Bloodstone, Elsa must fight for it like everyone because she was estranged from her father, legendary monster hunter Ulysses, at the time of his death. All the hunters have elaborate aesthetics, but Elsa shows up in just a cool leather jacket and bitchin’ pair of boots, which is how you know she’s a Marvel heroine. They all show up cool jackets and bitchin’ boots.
Werewolf is full of fun things like an animatronic corpse and a flaming tuba, and it has stellar artistic design (from art director Lauren Rosenbloom), taking inspiration from the brief but impactful Mayan Revival style of the Art Deco movement. Everything about Werewolf seems from another era, from the predominately black-and-white cinematography (lensed by Zoe White), to the Technicolor flourishes, to the prevalence of practical effects. Some digital blood effects stand out, and swamp creature Man-Thing is obviously enhanced with CGI, but Jack’s werewolf look is refreshingly practical. Rumor has it Bernal hated his time in the costume, but he looks great, and it’s SO nice to see a practical creature suit in a Marvel thing, when their reliance on CG character looks has become so prevalent.
The stand-alone nature of the story is the second-best thing about Werewolf, but the best is Donnelly and Bernal. Do I need to see more Werewolf-centric stories? Probably not. Would I like to see Donnelly and Bernal pop up elsewhere in the MCU? Absolutely. No idea where they would fit in, but they are tremendously enjoyable in their respective roles. Bernal has always excelled at projecting older-than-his-years wisdom, and he plays Jack with a weariness that suggests his dual nature isn’t eroding his humanity so much as it is eroding his faith in humanity. And Donnelly is FANTASTIC as Elsa, hardened but not invulnerable. Just one look from her tells an entire story about the state of her relationship with her father. We don’t need big expository monologues from Jack or Elsa because Bernal and Donnelly do such a good job inhabiting the whole person without spilling every secret. The one monologue Bernal does have is enough to paint a portrait of his life till that moment. More would just be overkill.
While it would be nice to see this kind of adventurousness, goofiness, and happily stand-alone storytelling in the MCU’s feature films, that isn’t likely to happen. The machine is simply too big at this point. But Disney+ offers the perfect place for Marvel to experiment a little, to give a filmmaker like Giacchino, at the start of his directorial career, space to play with fun characters in weird narrative corners that don’t have to support larger stories. Werewolf By Night is a refreshing blast of the silly and the strange into the MCU. It’s a little bit Twilight Zone and a little bit Vincent Price, and a whole lot of fun.
Werewolf By Night is now streaming on Disney+.