Werewolf By Night's Greatest Strength Is That It Feels Disconnected From The MCU

It's pretty much a foregone conclusion by this point that superhero movies are the most dominant pop cultural form of our time. Like it or not, for the foreseeable future it seems there's guaranteed to be a new Marvel project just around the corner, ready to take over your local theater, Twitter home page, and lunch break watercooler conversations.

While it's easy to assume that the oversaturation of superhero stories means those are the stories everyone's asking for, I don't actually think they are. A vocal group of Marvel and DC fans may be happy with all quippy, cape-wearing heroes all the time, but most everyone else wants what moviegoers and TV fans have wanted since the dawn of these mediums: something exciting and new. That's why "Werewolf By Night," the first-ever TV special released under the "Marvel Studios Special Presentation" banner, feels like a monster-sized breath of fresh air within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If I'm going to have to engage with Marvel stuff every other month for many more years, by God, I want to be engaging with something like this stylish, cinematic, Universal horror-inspired one-off that lets Gael Garcia Bernal wear a fur suit and tear some throats out. Watching "Werewolf By Night" reminded me a bit of watching Noah Hawley's ultra-stylish "Legion" pilot episode for the first time, an engrossing experience that only bothered to remind viewers it was tangentially related to Marvel Comics at the very end. The new 53-minute special feels (at this point) wholly disconnected from the larger Marvel world. It's almost entirely devoid of Easter eggs, and it doesn't even have a post-credits scene. It's the MCU at the least MCU it's been in years, and that's a very good thing.

The least MCU the MCU has been in years

There are parts of "Werewolf By Night" that look like Marvel if you squint, like the red glow of the Bloodstone (an item that seems too powerful to never show up again) and the presence of Groot-like monster sidekick Man-Thing. But with famed composer Michael Giacchino at the helm, a talented cast that includes Bernal, Laura Donnelly, and Harriet Sansom Harris, and a style that's starker, gorier, and more eye-catching than most anything Marvel's done, "Werewolf By Night" is the rare Marvel property that draws attention not to its inter-universe connections, but to its own craft and uniqueness.

This is a good thing, because there's a lot to love about "Werewolf By Night" on a filmmaking level. From its stirring score (also by Giacchino), to Harris' delightfully unhinged performance, to visuals that use shadow and light for maximum dramatic effect, the special is worth paying attention to without glancing at the corners of your screen in hopes of noticing a prop that could hint at the future direction of the MCU. In fact, Giacchino has said that he intentionally made the special feel unmoored from its context in the franchise, telling /Film's Ryan Scott that, when it comes to this story, "We're just worried about this moment right here, wherever we are. We never say where we are."

It's also an entry point for young horror fans

There are plenty of reasons to appreciate the break "Werewolf By Night" offers from the conveyor belt of Marvel content, including the fact that it could inspire young MCU-lovers who would typically do a deep dive into the connections between projects to instead look at its connections to classic Hollywood. The comic book reading list that will help viewers get the most out of the special may be short, but the watchlist is long: the film obviously draws inspiration from the Universal monster movies that defined American horror from the 1930s to the 1950s. 

You don't have to watch all 29 MCU films to understand "Werewolf By Night," but why not try watching 1941's Lon Cheney Jr.-starrer "The Wolf Man"? If you dig the Man-Thing, wait until you meet the Gill-Man from "Creature From the Black Lagoon." Plus, the special ends with a great "Wizard of Oz" moment. For young viewers who were raised on a steady diet of Marvel but not on black and white classics, "Werewolf By Night" isn't just a great Halloween special, but a great entry point into film history.

Most of all, "Werewolf By Night" is just a lot of fun, the kind that you can enjoy with zero multiversal strings attached. If the mad scientists at Marvel brought more creatures as unique and entertaining as this one to life, we'd all be better off for it.