The classic Universal monster films from the first half of the 19th century were instrumental in solidifying a place for horror in both American and global cinema. For many a generation of horror fans, these films marked a golden age in the genre. Sadly, like most trends in Hollywood, the idea was milked for all it was worth until it eventually ran aground. Such is the fickle nature of markets; the bubble must always burst.
These days, Hollywood finds itself chasing new trends with the superhero genre, reboots and remakes that prey on the nostalgia of film goers, and the lucrative potential of an interconnected cinematic universe. However, it makes sense for Universal to want their own cinematic universe as it can be argued that they are the original progenitor of the concept.
Within the midst of World War II, Universal’s monsters began to cross into each other’s films with 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. It was the first “ensemble” film of its kind until Universal began pushing them out at an accelerated rate, effectively killing the demand for such films until Marvel revived the idea. All the success Disney, who owns Marvel and just celebrated its most successful box office year in 2016, has stoked Universal’s desire to revisit the concept.
Dracula Untold, released in 2014, was suppose to be the initial entry into the cinematic universe. While the movie wasn’t terrible, it wreaked of mediocrity, that self-imposed purgatory so many big budget studio films find themselves in. I like Luke Evans as an actor, and I enjoyed his performance, but this was not the Dracula audiences were pining for. Although the spin of Dracula as a hero was a refreshing take on the character and one more in line with Transylvania’s perceptions of the real historical figure who inspired Bram Stoker’s legendary novel, the movie was too generic to pin the hopes of an entire cinematic universe onto. You can not build the foundation of your universe on a temperamental substance like sand, you build it on something far more solid. This statement is ironic as Dracula Untold has been removed from the planned continuity in lieu of 2017’s The Mummy.
The Mummy is a smart character to build off of for a cinematic universe. Out of all their monster movie reboots, The Mummy has had the most success as a franchise. With three main entries into the most recent iteration of the series and several Scorpion King spin-offs, it’s a franchise fresher in people’s minds. While the original one is the most highly regarded, the other films grossed a good deal of money, as Universal kept making them. None of the other monsters have had nearly as much success in recent years and Universal knows this.
In order for this cinematic universe to have some staying power, it needs mass appeal. As awesome as a predominantly horror universe sounds in my head, it doesn’t make sense for the numbers Universal is looking for. The biggest box office draws are usually the action oriented spectacle films, which have almost become cultural events for the general movie-going audiences. Small budget horror films made a killing at the box office in 2016, but multiple monsters fighting each other sounds more like a spectacle movie to me. Besides, I think we’ve already seen what a kick-ass horror driven universe looks like on television with Penny Dreadful, which didn’t have the mass appeal it needed, thus the show was canceled in its third season.
Universal has also taken a page out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s book and started going after talent. While I’ve liked Luke Evans in everything I’ve seen him in, his name doesn’t carry the same clout as a Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, and Johnny Depp. These big name actors are going to put more butts in seats and not just your nostalgic horror fans. In general, I trust all of the talent they’ve hired so far. Say what you want about Mr. Cruise, he goes above and beyond to deliver an enjoyable experience to his audiences, even if it doesn’t always pan out.
He cares and I think he’s been genuinely interested in doing something like this for a long time. Remember folks, he was set to work with Guillermo Del Toro on his adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness before it was driven to development hell. I don’t think he would have taken this job if he didn’t think there was a chance at this being something, so that’s another source of hope for me.
From what I hear, Cruise’s character will be in all of the films to serve as the connective tissue. My guess(pure speculation here, folks) is that Cruise’s character is none other than legendary monster slayer Van Helsing or that Cruise will replace Sophia Boutella as The Mummy by the end of the film. Either way, if you are going to trust someone to carry your franchise, Tom Cruise is the man to do it.
Russel Crowe is another big name talent I’m genuinely excited to see added to the list. The man is no stranger to genre film, starring in a number of sword and sandal epics and even playing father to the most famous son of Krypton. He’s bankable for Universal and a great actor, a perfect fit to play the volatile Dr. Jeckyle/Mr. Hyde.
I think the biggest question mark lies with Johnny Depp, who has been known to turn in some really over the top characterizations in recent years. His portrayal will really depend on the direction he’s given from his director, Alex Kurtzman. Thankfully, there is some room for interpretation on these characters, especially since Universal is bringing this motley crew into the modern era. I suppose we’ll have to wait for the films as so much depends on context, but people tend to forget Depp has turned in some stellar performances in the past.
Universal is going all in on this one and I think the franchise has a real chance at fiscal success. The real test will be whether it lands with audiences and critics. I remain optimistic about that as well.
What do you guys think about Universal’s proposed cinematic universe? Do you like what you’ve seen of The Mummy? What do you guys think about the casting so far? Let me know in the comments below!