Werewolf By Night

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Remember the good old days of the Marvel-One Shots; a bunch of short, micro movies that filled in the odd gaps here and there and gave the occasional side character such as Phil Coulson, Peggy Carter and even Trevor Slattery a chance to tale the spotlight for their own? Hoo boy, good times.
Well, thanks to the introduction of Marvel’s new “Specials” series, the One Shot has spiritually made a triumphant return with the ludicrously entertaining Werewolf By Night and helmed by composer turned director Michael Giacchino that takes the cult 70’s comic titles and runs some juicy, 1930’s, Universal Horror goodness all over them.
It’s quite possibly the biggest swing that the MCU has ever taken in a franchise full of them and if this is what we can expect from the future of the studio’s ever more crowded slate, then these hour-long mini movies will go down smoother than a quart of blood down a monster’s gullet.

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The death of legendary monster hunter, Ulysses Bloodstone, has brought together a bunch of fellow beast busters in order to pay their respects, but also to find out who will inherit the Bloodstone, a spectral gem that gives its holder enhanced abilities to repel any slathering creature they hope to smite. Hosted by Bloodstone’s theatrical widow, Verusa, all in attendance soon realise that if they want to obtain the wispy, crimson gem, their have to earn it by partaking in a hunt to see who truly is the best of the best as they stalk a mystery beast – and not to mention each other – through a maze located on the castle’s grounds.
However, while most of the ornately clad hunters are content to happily slice through each other to get to the creature, two of the attendees have slightly different agendas  with the first being Elsa Bloodstone, Ulysses’ estranged daughter who has done everything she can to shun her father’s legacy but who still wants to claim the Bloodstone for herself. However, the other participant is the far more enigmatic Jack Russell, an awkward looking gentlemen who has an ulterior motive that’s in direct opposition to what everyone else is there to do – save the monster.
Making a deal with Elsa to protect the huge, mossy creature in exchange for the prize, Jack reveals that he is actually buddies with the hulking Man-Thing (whom he knows as Ted), but it turns out that his secrets don’t stop there and when Verusa catches on to what the duo is up to, Jack is forced to reveal his dark secret.
You see, the reason behind Jack’s affinity for monsters is because he is one and everyone present will soon discover that he is, in fact, a werewolf by night.

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MCU head honcho Kevin Feige has already gone on record to announce that Werewolf At Night will have sizable repercussions on the universe at large in the future – but, doesn’t he say that about everything? My point is, while the future for this snarling new character may currently be as fuzzy as the werewolf’s back, one of the reasons this first Marvel Special feels so fresh is precisely because it feels so untethered to everything we’ve previously seen.
Shot in a glossy black and white and dotted with the occasional “cigarette burn” in the top right corner, Michael Giacchino has gone full horror nerd when bringing us this contained tale, giving the usual Marvel fanfare an incredible 1930’s overhaul and loading tons of enticing easter eggs everywhere (there’s a mural featuring a comic accurate Gorr The God Butcher fighting Saxons and I’m fairly certain I spotted an etching of a Wendigo). As a Universal Monster nut, I couldn’t be happier, especially when the design of the titular lycanthope leans to more Jack Pierce than Rick Baker, but for all the cool references, what makes Werewolf By Night work so well is the two main characters and a third you might not suspect.
Gael García Bernal’s Jack Russell (helluva name for a man that essentially turns into a dog) turns out to be something of a sweet soul, oddly gentle with the large, darting eyes of an introvert thrown into a huge social situation which obviously is a startling juxtaposition to the flesh rending beast he eventually becomes. In comparison, Laura Donnelly looks to be having tremendous fun playing the swaggering, adventurous Elsa Bloodstone, flinging out withering one liners and impressive beatdowns with enthusiastic aplomb, but the real star here turns out to be the MCU debut of possibly it’s most cult-charscter to date, that of the mossy mass of monster known as Man-Thing.

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The big, green fella is nothing short of a complete joy, with his huge expressive eyes and his weakness for playing solitaire, Ted (full name Ted Sallis to all those not familiar with his backstory) is undoubtedly going to be a smash with fans even though he shares some vegetable based DNA with the MCU’s other loveable tree monster, Groot.
Another thing Giacchino brings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – besides a massive shift in style and shaggy wolf people – is this is the first entry in the franchise that actively embraces horror and even includes some splashes of gore as Russell’s feral final reel rampage causes blood to actually splat on the screen while other unlucky participants get arrows shot through their mouths or blades plunged into their heads in a way that makes Sam Raimi’s work on the Doctor Strange sequel seem weirdly tame despite it containing a scene where an octopus cyclops has its eye messily popped out.
So where next – not just for Jack Russell but for the Marvel Specials in general? Well, we still have the Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special to come yet, but it would be a tremendous shame if we had to wait until next October for us to spend more time with Jack or Ted again (surely they’d be perfect for a second season of Moon Knight or even Blade) and the Specials format could be used to give minor characters a chance to shine or establish some needed backstory that can’t fit within the constraints of a feature. Imagine what you could do with a Special based around such neglected characters such as Sif, Ned Leeds White Vision or even any of the Eternals – in fact it could even be a great way to reintroduce such fan favourites such as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage back into the swing of things to join Daredevil and Kingpin.

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While some of its throwback horror sensibilities clash slightly with the usual Marvel template, whatever happens, Werewolf By Night is a cracking start to a whole new approach by Marvel to keep their relentless release schedule fresh, innovative and changing as a lycanthrope enjoying a nice, relaxing bathe in the moonlight.

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