Gael García Bernal (Screenshot: Marvel Studios/Disney+)
At first glance, night werewolf looks like another superficial outing from Marvel Studios. There’s a misunderstood hero who shares a strained but ultimately friendly working relationship with his co-star. A shiny object of power sets the story, wielded by a hammy villain who commands a generic army. Was there, Age of Ultron-ed that. But night werewolf just packs a gadget, and woof – he sure has teeth.
Presented in black and white with a healthy dose of ripped limbs and brilliant arcs of arterial spray, Marvel’s night werewolf is a surprisingly rowdy homage to the shadows and scares of Universal Pictures’ monster movies. It’s also the first of a new standalone format for Disney+ called “Marvel Studios Special Presentation,” which, as far as titles go, is a mouthful. But damn it if that doesn’t free up the most ubiquitous studio in the country to apply a bit of jazzy improvisation to its tried-and-true superhero formula. At first glance, it’s a lively brew of untapped potential.
There’s that pesky Marvel formula to consider, though. Directed by Michael Giacchino and written by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron, Werewolf introduces audiences to a family of monster hunters who possess a glowing heritage called Bloodstone. (It is described as a “weapon like no other”, though it glows like an Infinity Stone and does vague Scarlet Witch magick.) After the death of the family patriarch, a ceremonial hunting contest was held. place the day before his funeral, with this mysterious thing serving as the first prize. It’s a compelling premise, worthy of those found in the dusty issues of Tomb of Dracula Where Crypt of Shadows.
As a stand-alone story, it doesn’t have to be night werewolf to pay lip service to cannon (after all, not all Marvel installments have to feel like homework). However, it goes without saying that monsters have always existed in this universe: among its “heroes and marvels”, the narration tells us, hide monsters. Good. Then he continues: “In our modern world, [darkness] is where the monsters dwell, alongside those who hunt and slay them with pride.” While throwing silly exposition at the viewer (not to mention a delicious Easter egg), the opening contains beautifully horrifying and a weird foreboding, a moody improvement on typical Marvel fare.
As for this hunting ceremony, it attracts other hunters Jovan (Kirk Thatcher), Azrael (Eugénie Bondurant), Liorn (Leonardo Nam) and the prodigal Bloodstone Elsa (Laura Donnelly), all ready to slaughter a monster in order to claim the artifact as their own. Among their ranks is a mysterious (and rather dapper) man named Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal), driven by quite different desires.
Despite his impressive kill count (100 monsters and counting), Jack does not participate in the competition for the Bloodstone; he’s there to save the target of this horrible competition, his big green buddy Ted Sallis. (“Man-Thing” for those in the know.) “You can’t keep counting on me to save you,” Jack tells his heavy buddy. “This is the last time.” Don’t believe it: Jack has a thing for the beleaguered, moss-covered monstrosity for reasons that become clear midway through the special. As for Elsa, she wants to wrest control of the Bloodstone from her overbearing stepmother Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris). So, as is the custom in the Marvel Universe, Jack and Elsa team up.
Bernal gives a powerful but nimble performance, flexing the pathos during a quiet moment with Donnelly, where he describes the family’s influence and legacy as “an atmosphere”, and there’s a nice comedic moment where Jack struggles with a faulty grenade. And when Jack is knocked back by Bloodstone’s touch, revealing him as a monster, Bernal goes into beast mode with surprising efficiency, everything spits and growls. He’s a terrifically compelling Marvel leader, the kind that has every reason to thrive in one-off specials like this.
On the aesthetic side, the look of night werewolf ccertainly promises all sorts of creative potential for this new format. Marvel’s blatant digital brilliance and startling flatness of its in-camera compositions are pretty well mitigated by its black-and-white presentation – which is also a handy way to escape a TV-MA classification, given how much surprising chaos and splashes of the special. . (The Crazy 88s sequence from Kill Bill served a similar function.) Giacchino shot the special in color but convinced Marvel’s top brass to switch it to monochrome, a creative move that ultimately emphasizes the filmmaker’s 70s horror comic. and 1940s monster movie ambitions for the project. The inevitable werewolf transformation sequence, which Donnelly sells with visceral aplomb, takes advantage of this.
Watching night werewolf effectively juggling between superheroes, shocks and thrills, hard not to imagine what other fascinating stories, or fusions of genres, could arise from this new format. Currently, the only announced project that falls under this banner is Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Specialis expected to drop in December 2022 and connect the events between Guardians Vol. 2 and 2023 Flight. 3. A Rude James Gunn Christmas Special Fits Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation, But As night werewolf proves so stridently with its overall quality, that it doesn’t have to navigate familiar (and well-trodden) MCU lanes to succeed. (Let’s see a Howard the Duck one-shot in space someday, please and thank you.)
With an opening fanfare that resembles the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard and looks like a cheeky nod to a similar HBO opener, Marvel Studios’ special presentation currently stands apart from the rest of Marvel’s Phase Four. and the MCU as a whole. And thank Hela for that – characters like Man-Thing and Jack Russell might scratch more abrasively in an Avengers movie or look ridiculous if they appeared in an episode of She-Hulk. Within the confines of its ferocious one-and-done special, night werewolf becomes a monstrously good time. The trick going forward will be to find new, creative ways to make Marvel Studios’ special presentation feel precisely that: special.
night werewolf is now streaming on Disney+.
Jarrod Jones is a freelance writer currently based in Chicago. He reads a lot (and a lot) of comics and, as a result, is kind of an idiot.