I’ve been fairly underwhelmed with Marvel's recent Disney Plus shows. Yes, I enjoyed WandaVision, and most of Loki. I even liked the first episodes of Ms. Marvel, but then it all started to falter.
Often, I’ve found them a real slog to finish. In the case of She-Hulk, I still haven’t finished it yet. My colleagues have already insisted I get on that.
So when Werewolf by Night dropped onto Disney Plus in early October, I didn’t rush to watch. I placed it in my ever-expanding watchlist, with the notion that I would return at a later point. Truthfully? I wasn’t ever really planning to circle back. My decision initially appeared to be vindicated as the television special just sort of came and went. I saw almost no conversation about it on social media and even my Marvel-loving colleagues didn’t have much to say.
However, on Halloween night, with an hour to kill, I stumbled across it on the Disney Plus homepage and decided I might as well give it a shot. And I’m absolutely thrilled I did. Werewolf by Night is one of the best things Marvel has made for Disney Plus to date. It’s everything I want out of a Marvel show on the streaming service, and I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed there is more like it to come.
Werewolf by Night seriously impressed me
The premise of Werewolf by Night is a simple one. It sees a group of monster hunters gather at a gothic manner to mourn the loss of their leader. However, they soon learn that this is more than just a social occasion. In order to win their leader's mysterious Bloodstone relic, they must competition in a deadly competition that ultimately sees them come face to face with a fur-covered creature.
This special is presented in striking black and white, although sporadic color is used to great effect. For example, the desirable Bloodstone relic emits a pulsing red light. It’s all quite similar in tone to a classic monster movie. And it also feels strangely reminiscent of the Twilight Zone with a spooky sinister edge and a sense of unpredictability throughout.
Gael García Bernal plays Jack Russell, a timid monster hunter harboring a big secret, while Laura Donnelly plays Elsa Bloodstone, the estranged daughter of the deceased hunter leader. The interplay between these two is strong, but I also liked them as separate characters and the special gives them room to shine individually for the most part. I'm particularly keen for Elsa to reappear in future MCU content.
At just an hour long, Werewolf by Night doesn’t have any padding. If anything, it moves along a little too briskly. I’d have quite liked to see its core premise expanded into a feature-length presentation or maybe even a longer series. However, its speedy pacing does have the advantage of making its runtime absolutely fly by. When the credits rolled I was genuinely surprised it had been an hour already.
Werewolf by Night also adds a degree of brutality that hasn’t really been seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. Sure, it’s not anywhere close to the level of violence that superhero movies like Deadpool, Logan or The Suicide Squad contain, but for a special that is set within the MCU, it’s pretty surprising how much director Michael Giacchino was allowed to get away with. This werewolf definitely has bite.
Werewolf by Night is what Marvel on Disney Plus should be
What I love so much about Werewolf by Night is that it's different. This TV show special takes a few risks, rather than playing things extremely safe as much of Marvel’s original Disney Plus content has. My editor tells me Andor's doing something very similar — and not getting much conversation going either.
I’ve written before that Marvel TV shows on Disney Plus all too often feel like smaller, more stretched-out, versions of the MCU movies we get in theatres. But Werewolf by Night doesn’t feel like that at all. It’s something new that we haven’t seen in this comic book universe before, and that’s worth getting excited about.
Of course, many standard trappings of the MCU are still present in Werewolf by Night. For example, there’s a little too much comedy, and the ending feels quite convenient. But as the credits rolled I felt genuinely receptive to seeing more from these characters and this setting, and that’s definitely not a feeling that Falcon and Winter Solider or Moon Knight gave me.
Werewolf by Night is exactly what I want to see from Marvel content on Disney Plus. I don't want Marvel TV shows that feel like MCU movies but with a couple zeros knocked off the budget. Instead, Marvel should use the additional freedom of a streaming platform to create shows and specials that wouldn't quite work as a theatrical movie that needs to make hundreds of millions of dollars to be viable.
Marvel should use Disney Plus as a breeding ground for experimentation, and Werewolf by Night is the first time I’ve seen evidence of that actually happening. Rather than another cookie-cutter TV show about a D-list superhero fighting an E-list villain, Werewolf by Night finally gave me something a little different — and now I want more.
Don't let Werewolf by Night be a one-off
Unfortunately, I’m worried that Werewolf by Night could be a one-off in more ways than one. Not only is there yet to be any indications that we will revisit the characters/setting of Werewolf by Night, but there are also no other original specials on the list of upcoming Marvel movies and series.
We do have the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special to look forward to later this month, but I expect that to simply be a shorter version of the previous Guardians movies. It almost certainly won’t feel refreshing in the way that Werewolf by Night does, although that isn’t to say it won’t still be well worth watching.
Looking ahead, the likes of Echo and Ironheart seem likely to fit the mold that the majority of Marvel TV shows fall into. But at least Secret Invasion has the potential to be the biggest Marvel show yet, so it might win me over with spectacle alone. However, if Marvel wants to keep my renewed interest in its Disney Plus shows, then it needs more offerings like Werewolf by Night — as soon as possible.