Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe…No, we didn’t ask for it, but it’s here to stay. Well, for at least nine more films. As the name suggests, Universal Pictures is bringing a new slate of classic monster movies back from the dead with its anticipated Dark Universe. The web of films has already begun to unravel with The Mummy this June.
Not only are we looking forward to bringing back classic monster flicks, but also the novelty and significance of the original films Universal Pictures was built on. The studio argues the legitimacy of the universe by suggesting moviegoers should consider each film as its own entity, rather than a gimmicky “interconnected” franchise as seen most notably with DC and Marvel. Speaking of Marvel, what will happen to their once-promising properties such as Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula and Manphibian?Or Jekyll and Hyde? It has been confirmed that the next creature to hit theatres will be Bride of Frankenstein on Valentine’s Day 2019. Aw, so romantic!
When a monster-themed cinematic universe inspired by the success of other studios’ comic universes is brought into the frame, most movie-aficionados shun the thought of it altogether. Marvel may have left their Legion of Monsters behind long ago, but as we have seen, Marvel has taken on a completely different direction more fitting to their brand.
“Every new universe has to start somewhere,” says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, but the question remains: will it be a freakish success or beast of burden? And what exactly will Universal do to revive the adoring fans of creature features, who’ve been starved of monster movies for so long?
Here’s a sneak peek at what Universal Studios has in store for the dark side.
Some spoilers ahead!
15. Production Value
Last summer, in 2016, Universal brought on Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek) and Chris Morgan to help write and develop the classic monsters into a connected, “dark” universe. More recently, the studio has added Noah Hawley (Fargo), Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) and Ed Solomon (Men In Black) to join Morgan and Kurtzman on the team they’re calling “Monster Men.”
The reality is, there’s nothing structural in terms of storylines or events that would prevent a monsterverse from working for Universal Pictures. The biggest hurdle that the studio faces, much like any other studio, is where the filmmakers spend their money: talent, special effects, rights to music or scripts, production crew, and a slew of other things that go into making a big-budget production.
We also know that Universal has already signed on a team of A-list actors such as Tom Cruise, as the forerunners of the universe, with hopes that the expensive roster will help rather than hurt the unfolding series of films. As for other characters in the universe, we know that Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem are already signed on to play the roles of The Invisible Man and Frankenstein.
14. A Fresh Take on Classic Films
As you might have guessed, Universal’s Dark Universe is a franchise set to reboot classic monster movies from Universal’s golden age. Universal has already given the go-ahead to at least nine more movies. Universal is historically known for the original black and white Dracula film, released in 1931, as well as Creature of the Black Lagoon, which was introduced to the world in 1954.
While the studio has denied purposefully pushing a forced franchise web, one which requires extensive attention to and knowledge of the universe and its characters, critics doubt the angle questioning the difficulty of luring fans into a new universe solely based on monsters rather than superheroes. According to Universal, the monsters and their respective films are connected by the “mysterious, multi-national organization” Prodigium run by the eccentric Dr. Jekyll.
The Wolfman starring Benicio Del Toro was released with lesser success in 2010, but monster movies from Universal, the studio that started it all, have been sporadic as of late.
13. New Universe, New Monsters
Is it possible that Universal Pictures could be adding not one but two new monsters to the franchise? Some monsters that immediately come to mind, which have not been developed or explored in depth are bug-like creatures, ghosts, goblins, wendigos, beasts of folklore, and other obscure monsters.
In addition to the initial roster predicted by critics and announced by the studio, The Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame have also both been mentioned in conjunction with the Dark Universe franchise.
For anyone unfamiliar with the classic characters who aren’t exactly monsters, they are both tragically flawed by physical deformities. As is the case with both the Phantom and the Hunchback, both guys are subject to love and loss due to vain shortcomings. It will be interesting to see how the studio expects to fit them into the overall story arc, especially alongside the likes of deadly ghouls like Dracula.
12. The Mummy
You know how sometimes you do something anyway, even though you know it’s wrong? Even though we may never get our money back, or time spent watching yet another remake of The Mummy, there’s still a lot more in store for the Dark Universe than what lies on the surface, or in this case, under the surface and deep within a tomb.
The Mummy reminded us, in an all-too allegorical way, that even though women can be superheroes, they can also be evil undead princesses hellbent on vengeance… and that regardless of their backstory, the badass good girls prevail. At least according to the box offices. The 2017 Mummy boasts Tom Cruise as the protagonist, Nick Morton, and features a villainess played by Sofia Boutella. While this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking character trope or mind-blowing plot device, it is refreshing and different to see in The Mummy franchise.
While some sources state that The Mummy of 2017 is in fact connected to the Brendan Fraser film of the same title, others beg to differ stating that it is a completely different take altogether. Without giving too much away, what we do know about this version is that the plot focuses on a team of Navy SEALs who’ve been sent to Iraq where they investigate a tomb of supposed terrorists. Along the way they discover that the tomb holds ancient secrets that are far more deadly.
11. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Russell Crowe has already made his introduction to the universe as Dr. Jekyll in Universal’s latest installation of The Mummy, which also starred Tom Cruise as the adventuresome himbo (surprise), and Sofia Boutella with the breakout role as lady mummy.
Soon after the Dark Universe was announced, a metal briefcase surfaced on the Internet, belonging to none other than Dr. Jekyll. According to various sources, the mysterious briefcase reveals Dr. Jekyll’s extensive notes and research, all pointing back to the aforementioned organization known as Prodigium.
The briefcase is made up of a handful of ominous polaroid pictures, newspaper clippings, a map to Haram, and a letter to Jennifer reading: “investigate the burial site!”
10. Javier Bardem
Some of the actors attached to this new world who’ve already been announced include Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem in the (totally awesome) role of Frankenstein. Wait a minute. Hold up. Did you say Javier Bardem as FRANKENSTEIN? That’s right.
Not surprisingly, Javier was also approached about playing the equally quirky and evil Dr. Jekyll character in The Mummy, but took a pass on the part for unknown reasons. Sources at Universal have revealed that Bardem’s Frankenstein is likely to make his first appearance in other monster pictures, with a pretty high possibility of getting his own solo feature down the road.
It still has not been specified whether the Skyfall actor would be taking the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein or the makeshift monster named “Adam,” short for “The Adam of your labors” in Mary Shelley’s original novel published in 1818.
Bardem, who is best known for his roles in No Country For Old Men and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, said, “I have the size of the head. That’s for sure. They’re not going to waste a lot of money in makeup.”
9. Bride Of Frankenstein
Coming to theaters as soon as February 2019, The Bride of Frankenstein – the next film in the universe – will be directed by Beauty and the Beast‘s Bill Condon. Even though The Mummy didn’t quite do the trick for audiences, we’re hoping that Bill’s involvement will regain the public’s trust and hope in the universe.
The Bride of Frankenstein will be an interesting film for Condon, to say the least. In 1998, Condon directed and wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Gods and Monsters, a film which, perhaps, not-so-coincidentally followed the life of director James Whale – director of the original Frankenstein movie.
Condon has said, “The Bride of Frankenstein remains the most iconic female monster in film history, and that’s a testament to Whale’s masterpiece-which endures as one of the greatest movies ever made.” The Bride, however, has yet to be officially cast. It has been said that Angelina Jolie is Universal’s top choice to play Frankenstein’s Bride, but an official deal has not been made and is still but mere speculation.
8. The People’s Wolfman
Dwayne Johnson is rumored to be the top choice for the Wolfman. Yes, THAT Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It appears that The Rock is not only a top contender but may be the star of The Wolfman reboot. That is, if The Mummy and Bride of Frankenstein are successful at the box office, Universal will continue on with their monster plan, with Johnson as their Wolfman.
Despite the ratings for the latest reboot of Baywatch, Johnson is still considered to be quite successful and in-demand these days. The Rock is set to star in developing universes and potential franchises, including the Doc Savage movie adaptation by Shane Black, and the Black Adam solo film with DC’s Extended Universe.
Sources say that the most recent draft for The Wolfman screenplay was completed by Dave Callaham, co-writer of the 2014 Godzilla film. Godzilla was the first giant monster on the scene in the Warner Bros. cinematic universe. With Dark Universe’s Wolfman, Callaham’s career writing monster flicks looks pretty promising.
Count Dracula has undoubtedly been hinted at as one of the main DU characters in the developing universe, but there was no mention of him in the story of Dracula Untold whatsoever. Alex Kurtzman merely stated that The Mummy would be the “first movie out of the [monster universe] gate” which has us desperately wondering if and when Dracula will see the light of day again. Or not because that might kill him.
In the final act of Gary Shore’s adaptation, there was an end-of-film “twist” where Luke Evans’ Dracula is seen undead and well, existing in modern times. Were you under the impression that 2014’s Dracula Untold might be the start of the Dark Universe? Sure it might be a bit of a stretch, but we were.
Then again, maybe Dracula won’t make a reappearance in Dark Universe at all. On the topic of Dracula Untold, Alex Kurtzman has said, “Universal was beginning to think about what they wanted to do with their monsters, but I don’t know that it was ever designated as being part of the Dark Universe.”
6. Rooting For The Bad Guys
Universal’s Dark Universe is different, very different compared to other universes in fact, and they aren’t ashamed to admit that obvious observation. The major difference between the Dark Universe and other worlds such as DC or Star Wars, is becoming a pretty controversial topic for storytellers and fans alike.
We know to root for the conflicted fallen hero or flawed protagonist with uncanny supernatural powers in films like Thor or Batman, but who are we supposed to cheer on in horror films? In the early days of horror, wide-eyed audiences were eased into the ideas of human-like monsters and their habitats, with perhaps even a bit of background on how they came to be – or as we commonly refer to them today, origin stories. The monsters were not only centerpieces with the goal of frightening us, they also had elements to them which made them just like us. They were relatable monsters, albeit terrifying.
5. Redemption For Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise opens the universe in The Mummy as Nick Morton, a soldier in Iraq with a side hustle stealing artifacts only to awaken an angry monster from her thousand year old grave. Even though Tom Cruise closed his performance as Nick Morton, a tepid hero on horseback, there is still a chance that he will be redeemed in the form of a monster. Hopefully one who undergoes violent changes and goes up against odds which none of us mortals could face.
4. Universal’s Legacy
Sources have already revealed that this universe will not attempt to be like the others which came before, as seen with the likes of DC and Marvel, or even television shows such as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Universal’s … erm, Universe, will rather develop each film to its own beat within an umbrella of classic monster films.
Another thing that makes the Dark Universe so intriguing is that the overall production costs of each film could fluctuate from high-budget blockbusters to low-budget but story-laden presentations. To add a certain polish to the new twists on classic conventions, a brand new theme for the Dark Universe has been composed by Danny Elfman. Elfman, who is beyond excited to be working in association with the monster flicks, stated in an interview, “I grew up on monsters. Monsters were my life, and these iconic Universal monsters were almost like my family. I simply wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) sense behind Universal’s onslaught of old-time freaks, there is also nothing that explicitly hinders the movies from being interlinked. How exactly this feat will be carried out is the question we are still dying to know.
“The first great movie character universe was a vision of Carl Laemmle Jr.’s,” says Sean Daniel, who produced the most recent Mummy movies. “So creating this Dark Universe brand and bringing back these characters makes sense. Done right, people will always love monster movies.”
3. Johnny Depp As The Invisible Man
Universal’s first Invisible Man film was the 1933 adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel of the same title, which starred Claude Rains. As the story goes, the scientist discovers a way to become invisible but the price is his sanity. The original film was directed by the legendary James Whale, also known for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.
The Invisible Man will be returning in our near future to the Dark Universe, and there’s been some major headway on casting the lead. Johnny Depp was confirmed for the role earlier this year, which appears to be nothing but good news for the studio, the only looming bad news could be that Depp has also recently signed on to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise. This could mean bigger budget and limited schedule for Johnny’s foray into the Dark Universe.
Though we currently cannot pin down the tone of these horror stories, what we might expect in terms of anti-hero driven stories could become a monster of its own. As is the case with The Invisible Man, the story was initially based on a sci-fi by H.G. Wells, who has inspired both horror and comedic elements. Unless you’re an uber-fan of Universal’s classic monsters or The Invisible Man, you might not know that the story has also been adapted for stage and radio, long before the days of Hollywood giants and big-budget summer blockbusters.
2. Van Helsing
Without a doubt, one of the most intriguing stories of the bunch is none other than Van Helsing. Universal backs its claims to launch a never-before-seen Van Helsing film, and by the time the production is executed, most of us will have long forgotten the Hugh Jackman version directed by Stephen Sommers.
What makes this story so essential to the unfolding of the Dark Universe is that Van Helsing is a monster hunter, and monsters are the very thing this Universe depends on. In essence, a movie dedicated to bidding the grisly creatures we know and love against a rogue “hero” of sorts, who may actually be the biggest villain of all.
We’ve learned that the screenwriter of Arrival, Eric Heisserer, has been hired to write the treatment. It might be a few years before we see Van Helsing in theaters, but if Universal builds the Dark Universe putting characters first rather than a somewhat predictable story, then Van Helsing could be what makes the franchise everything we hoped for and more.
1. Monster Mash
Great crossover universe trends didn’t start with Marvel or even Star Wars—they started with monsters, and to be more specific, creatures of 19th century novels that Universal Studios brought to life on the big screen. As with many types of films, and even current music, we have not only seen comebacks and rebirths of “old” styles and trends, but mash ups that combine old with new.
Early horror movies such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Van Helsing, the Invisible Man, and The Wolfman will positively be haunting us once again in the near future. Though this venture may seem like a mad scientist’s machination of a groundbreaking experiment gone wrong, perhaps that is exactly what Universal was going for… at least with The Mummy. The Mummy was simply an introduction to a universe of other, seemingly unrelated monsters. What we cannot predict at this moment, is whether the franchise is doomed to fail or if there may be some glimmer of hope for the classic anti-heroes.
Though these films are categorized as remakes and twists on convention for obvious reasons, it’s still no coincidence that originals are considered some of the most influential films of all time. At least we can somewhat comfortably say Dark Universe will still be better than Suicide Squad.
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