Movies Reviews

Why Marvel's Special Presentations Are the Most Exciting Post-Endgame Project

After the unprecedented success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first three phases, it seemed like the franchise had reached its creative peak. Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War had both grossed over $2 billion at the worldwide box office, and they satisfied fans by giving a conclusion to the Infinity Saga that had begun in 2008 with Iron Man. However, it’s safe to say that Phase 4 was a major disappointment. Between disappointing movies, confusing storylines, an overabundance of content, and the awkward cameos, the quality of the MCU’s output began to considerably dip. Phase 5 has already begun with a rocky start thanks to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which underperformed both financially and critically.

It appears that even Kevin Feige has taken notice of fans’ disappointment, as he commented that “it is harder to hit the zeitgeist when there’s so much product out there.” Similarly, DC’s new creative head (and Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy director) James Gunn said that “if it becomes just a bunch of nonsense on screen, it gets really boring.” Despite the generally negative reception that Phases 4 and 5 have received so far from longtime MCU fans, the “Special Presentations” Werewolf by Night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special proved that there is still the potential for bold, original MCU projects again.

Werewolf By Night Was the First Legitimately Scary MCU Project

Marvel Studios

While the MCU often employs directors with a horror-centric background, such as Scott Derrikson and Sam Raimi, the franchise has never delivered a truly scary story. Considering that the saga generally appeals to audiences of all ages, the films have never stretched the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. However, Werewolf by Night was unquestionably the scariest MCU project thus far. The 45-minute special was directed by longtime composer Michael Giacchino, who composed the score for Doctor Strange, Thor: Love and Thunder, and the three Spider-Man films starring Tom Holland. Rather than choosing from Marvel’s most iconic collection of heroes, Giacchino focused on the relatively obscure character Werewolf by Night.

Known by his human name Jack Russell, Werewolf by Night was played by Rosewater and Y Tu Mama Tambien star Gael Garcia Bernal. Russell is invited alongside a select group of monster hunters to the enigmatic Bloodstone Manor, which is run by Verussa Bloodstone (Harriet Sansom Harris). Following the death of her husband, Ulysseys, Verussa has decided to hold a competition to determine who is worthy to wield the Bloodstone. It’s here when Russell’s secret ability to transform into a werewolf is revealed.

Related: MCU Phase 4 Movies, Ranked

There’s a fun sense of classical horror movie campiness in the way that Werewolf by Night is directed. Since the film is shot in black-and-white and even incorporates camera movements from the 1930s, it truly feels like one of the original Universal Monster movies. The various monsters and creatures are more terrifying than any of the previous MCU antagonists, and the special is unafraid to incorporate some genuinely gory moments. Best of all, the special doesn’t seem to acknowledge the convoluted “multiverse” storyline that had dominated all of the post-Endgame projects thus far; it feels like a completely standalone entry, and a great starting point for those watching the franchise for the first time that may not have been interested in anything previously.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special Had Everything That Makes the Film Unique

Marvel Studios

While many of the films within the MCU have been criticized for looking bland and feeling generic, the Guardians of the Galaxy series has been an outlier. Gunn brought a unique sensibility to the first two films, and expectations are high for what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will deliver. He showed his affinity for the characters he brought to life in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, a hilarious look at what the “galaxy’s greatest losers” do during the holiday season. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is having some holiday blues and struggles to connect with Nebula (Karen Gillan); this prompts Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to go to Earth in search of the real Kevin Bacon, who was infamously referenced in the first film.

Surprisingly, Bacon appears to be completely in on the joke and does a great job reacting to the idealized version of himself that Peter has become obsessed with. However, the use of the cameo also shows what the Guardians of the Galaxy projects do so well that other superhero movies do not; what could easily be a throwaway joke or gag takes a more heartfelt route when Bacon discusses how the holiday season connects different families. This is mirrored in how Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) all attempt to share gifts with each other, and how they’re surprised by each other’s kindness.

Related: MCU: Every Disney+ Series in Phase 4, Ranked

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special actually feels like a fully-realized story concept, and not just a fun marketing tool used to promote an upcoming film. While the LEGO Star Wars specials on Disney+ are simply fun tie-ins that references the other movies, Gunn transformed what could have been a generic yuletide story and turned it into something with meaning for each of the characters. It’s essential viewing for MCU fans, but even those with only a passing knowledge of the universe may be able to find some enjoyment in it.

The Possibilities for Future Presentations Are Endless

werewolf by night disney+ marvel
Disney Platform Distribution

Marvel Comics has one of the largest fictional universes of any ongoing continuity; when Walt Disney Pictures purchased the rights to this legacy brand, they inherited thousands of characters, many of whom have never been brought to life before in any iteration. It would simply be impossible to dedicate an entire movie or series to each character, but selecting individual stories to tell in future “Special Presentations” could be a fun way to acknowledge some of the odder moments in Marvel’s history.

The format of the special presentations is also interesting, as it allows the MCU to test the performance of a certain character to see how fans will react. Based on the overwhelmingly positive reaction of Werewolf by Night, there’s more potential for Bernal to appear in Blade or another MCU film.

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