An Ode To Marvel's Man-Thing, Werewolf By Night's Breakout Character

If you haven't seen "Werewolf By Night," there are major spoilers for the special ahead!

Marvel's "Werewolf By Night" is exciting for a multitude of reasons. It's a fun directorial debut from an expert film composer Michael Giacchino, adopting the aesthetics and paying tribute to 1940s creature features, and calling back to the tradition of Marvel Cinematic Universe one-shots. Dubbed a "Marvel Studios' Special Presentation," it sets up a format of shorter one-off stories in the mold of an hour-long TV special.

If "Werewolf by Night" is a good example of what they're aiming to do with the format, it might lead to more exciting genre and stylistic experiments in the MCU down the line. The story follows an unlikely werewolf hero, Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal), and his infiltration of a cabal of monster hunters and their deadly competition to decide the rightful heir of a powerful relic, the Bloodstone. Jack however, has his own motive — to rescue his captured friend, Man-Thing (Carey Jones) from the Bloodstone Manor.

There's a lot to love about the Halloween special, but the introduction of Man-Thing into the MCU is truly the best part. This horrific-looking swamp monster actually is a gentle giant, who possibly might hold the key to Phase 4 & 5's mystery box. We could gush about Man-Thing for a full article, and that's exactly what we're doing here.

Man-Thing's origin involves a tragic and isolating transformation

When Jack first explains to Elsa (Laura Donnelly) how to communicate with Man-Thing, he warns her that in order to establish herself as a non-threat, she needs to refer to him by his real name, Ted. While it might seem like a quirky little joke at first, it's actually a nod to Man-Thing's comic book origins.

Like most Marvel heroes and villains, Man-Thing's form was born from an accidental transformation. First introduced as Theodore "Ted" Sallis in "Savage Tales #1," he was a biochemist who was tasked to replicate the super-soldier serum that created Captain America. His assignment, "Project Gladiator" saw him in a mysterious swamp in the Florida Everglades, where the habitat's mystical properties fused with the serum and caused Ted to transform into a new composition of the swamp's plant life, becoming the green creature known as Man-Thing (not to be confused with DC's Swamp Thing)!

Though it's very easy to be frightened by his Cthulhu-esque tendrils, his piercing red eyes, or his ability to disintegrate his enemies, his clear, trustworthy bond with Jack makes it clear that Ted is a sentient, sympathetic creature that has been othered by his appearance. When Jack and Ted first interact together in the special, it's coming from a place of genuine warmth and respect, an immediate contrast to the cold viciousness of the cabal. It's a quick and compelling way to establish the solidarity these two characters have as "monsters," but it also justifies the classic horror style of direction made in this special; connecting Jack and Ted to a cinematic legacy of misunderstood monsters.

Man-Thing is one of Marvel's best special effect achievements so far

However, what truly sells Ted as a standout character throughout "Werewolf By Night” is the fact that there's a physicality to his screen presence. The special breaks away from the MCU's usual habits of over-relying on CG (worsened by poor working conditions of an unionized VFX industry), by returning to classic filmmaking tricks. There are real sets, thoughtful usage of lighting and space, and the "Man-Thing” we see in the special is built off of a combination of an on-set animatronic, a giant suit worn by Carey Jones for reference, and a mixture of practical and computer effects.

With the relatively lower budget for all the Disney+ MCU projects, it's a gift that Ted looks incredibly convincing. When the special eventually lights itself into full color and the dawn sun rises, Ted watches over Jack as he recovers from his climactic werewolf transformation. Shot in the woods in natural light, this is one moment where the craftsmanship in bringing Ted to life especially shows.

The green of Ted's plant body is perfectly lit, feeling naturally placed with the muted morning tone. García-Bernal looks directly into his eyes while conversing over coffee, clearly reacting to the creature in a way actors in other MCU projects often struggle with due to the lack of a physical element on set. It makes Ted feel real but also gives him an adorable, friendly charm.

Man-Thing might hold the key to the future of The Multiverse Saga

"Werewolf By Night" feels mostly disconnected from the rest of the MCU, though Kevin Feige stresses that this one-off story will eventually have importance in one way or another. If that's true, then one can be certain that if any character from this special holds the keys to potential universe expansion, it would be Ted.

The mystical swamp in the Florida Everglades that mutated with Ted's serum and created his Man-Thing form was actually powered by its connection to the "Nexus of All Realities," a pathway that bends all space and time. It is an infinitely powerful doorway to any reality, and as we know now, Phase Four, Five, and Six are all part of Feige's ultimate connective plan, The Multiverse Saga. From what we've seen of Ted in this special, we can't glean too much evidence that his MCU origin is the same as his comic origin, and Feige loves to throw us curve balls every so often, but if he takes that route to connect the multiverse threads back to Ted, the foundation is at least there.

Whatever the plan is, it would be a shame to rob us of more Man-Thing. There is a deserved space in our hearts for creatures shaped like a Lovecraftian horror with the personality of a loveable, loyal friend. We'll go out to sushi with him any day.