Dark Universe is Universal’s attempt at a cinematic universe

Stroke of genius, or a crass mockery of cinema’s most iconic monsters?

Deep sighs and rolling eyes; Universal has just announced their planned cinematic universe to snatch a piece of the lucrative blockbuster franchise pie.

It’s a mixing pot of iconic monsters and characters from literature and film, like Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde, with this year’s the Mummy kick-starting their project. Universal is tapping on their old intellectual property, revisiting old classics in their library due for an update, to deliver old-fashioned scares and plenty of throwbacks. 

Big stars to headline each film

Much like the MCU, big names are going to be attached to each role, with Javier Bardem already cast as Frankenstein’s Monster for the remake of the recently announced Bride of Frankenstein (2019). It will also be directed by Bill Condon who should be very familiar with the monster-movie dynamic having directed Beauty and the Beast.

Other names include Russell Crowe as Dr Jekyll, Johnny Depp as Captain, no, the Invisible Man (we’d prefer the Inaudible Man), Sofia Boutella as the Mummy (whom we now can assume will not die in the upcoming film) and Tom Cruise as Nick Morton – not a monster but some adventurer who is in the Mummy and is gonna stick around. There are plenty of other tantalizing rumours as well: Angelina Jolie as the Bride of Frankenstein, the Rock as the Wolfman and Leonardo DiCaprio as Dracula himself.  

The Avengers with iconic monsters

Universal’s excuse to tie these unrelated monsters together is pretty much the Avengers. Suspend your disbelief; a super secret organisation called “Prodigium” led by Dr Jekyll monitors and occasionally apprehends mythical monsters. Little too familiar? Right off the bat, it sounds like any superhero team up, but with Nick Fury leading a squad of Hulks – angry and animalistic.

Will Universal’s big risk actually pay off? A lot of it will depend on the Mummy, which has to be at the very least, a financial success. Given its budget of US$125 million, it’s not hard to believe it will make a profit (more than double its budget). But the important question is: will it stir interest in the movie franchise it’s supposed to kick-start? Will viewers even stay for a post-credit scene?


Universal's big risk

Chances are, the average joe wouldn’t be able to catch the references to these old films (filmed way back since the 30s). It’s unlikely Universal will be going for a hard R-Rated take on the franchise, so their target audience are likely to be teens who really could care less about the dichotomy between Jekyll and Hyde. This is a pretty specialist area and is likely best cherished by cinephiles, not a mainstream audience.

But cinephiles are not going to be pleased with the direction Universal is taking. These horror icons will be made as action-adventure movies – can you imagine the Wolfman and Gill-Man exchanging a nod before going into a fistfight before making cringe-inducing one-liners? According to the chairman of Universal, it is to “reimagine and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience”, but true fans of these icons will probably find this a vulgar mockery and inversion of frightening legends of the silver screen. Also, think cash-in potential; wait till you see the inevitable line up of merchandise and toys. 

Something we can hopefully look forward to is monochrome renditions of these films, much like Logan and Mad Max: Fury Road are re-releasing their films in stunning black and white. It’ll suit the heritage and aesthetic of these films perfectly, but let’s first hope that they’re any good.

Its pilot, the Mummy, opens 8 June locally. Meanwhile, you can also pick up a Blu-Ray boxed set of the old classics. It may just be the last great depiction of these legendary icons.

[Sources: Ars Technica, Screen Rant]