The Dark Universe: What We Know About Universal's Monster Franchise
Universal's answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- the Monster Mash of interconnected horror movies -- took a big step forward with the hiring of a brain trust for the studio's shared world.
The studio recently hired Noah Hawley (TV's Fargo), Aaron Guzikowski (Hugh Jackman's Prisoners) and Ed Solomon (Men In Black) to join Chris Morgan and Alex Kurtzman in a band of screenwriters they collectively are dubbing the "Monster Men." These scripters, according to The Hollywood Reporter, are operating like a television-show writer's room to brainstorm an interlocking monster universe drawing on the popularity of Universal's classic monster properties, now known as The Dark Universe. And in the past few weeks, an A-List cast has been assembled on that front, as well.
The earliest seeds of this shared monster universe have been laid, and they are starting to bear fruit. We recently ran the teaser trailer for the latest step in this shared universe, The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman. Let's take a moment to run through everything that we know about the creatures at the forefront of the movement -- and the creators who will attempt to bring them back from the cinematic dead.
Alex Kurtzman's The Mummy will be the first monster movie out of the gate for this refreshed monster universe, with a June 9 release date. This new Mummy movie will have no connection to the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies. We have since learned that the plot will focus on a team of Navy SEALs on a mission to Iraq who infiltrate a tomb thinking it's housing terrorists... only to learn it's housing the corpses of grave robbers. And the movie has star power. Tom Cruise leads the ensemble. The first trailer introduced Russell Crowe as this universe's Dr. Jekyll. And that's Kingsman villain Sofia Boutella pictured above as the contemporary version of The Mummy. It does seem like Universal is content to use Kurtzman's upcoming movie to launch this new creature-feature endeavor. What does that say about Dracula Untold? Read on.
Most of us were under the impression that 2014's Dracula Untold would be the start of the Dark Universe at Universal. In fact, there's a final act "twist" at the end of Gary Shore's movie that finds Luke Evans' Count Dracula moving through modern times, under the watch of the menacing Master Vampire (Charles Dance). Here's where things get murky. Dracula is mentioned as one of the main characters in this developing universe (as he should be). But there is no mention in the THR story about Dracula Untold. And the specific wording calling Alex Kurtzman's Mummy the "first movie out of the monster universe gate" for The Dark Universe has us wondering if the bloodsucking fiend is in for yet another reboot in the next few years... as Untold gets jettisoned from the canon.
The Bride of Frankenstein
We know the next movie in The Dark Universe, and it's an unusual choice. Bill Condon will direct a movie based on the Bride of Frankenstein, which is due in theaters in February 2019. The character was first introduced in a sequel to James Whale's classic Frankenstein film. And while Universal has mounted numerous attempts to try and remake a story based on this character, none of them have been able to get off the ground. The idea of a Bride of Frankenstein movie seems to have to spin off of a successful Frankenstein, and the recent news linked Javier Bardem to that lead role. Beyond that, though, we don't have very many details... or a bride!
As mentioned, Javier Bardem is on the list of recent casting for The Dark Universe, and will play Frankenstein's monster. But where? In what movie? Likely Bill Condon's Bride of Frankenstein movie, though that has not been confirmed. One question that I really want answered about these movies is "when" they will take place. Because the only time that Dracula Untold became interesting is when Vlad (Luke Evans) was stalking through our times... and if each of these movies are going to be set in the past, the Universe might have a slower-than-average ramp up speed. The Mummy has a modern setting, though, so I'm hopeful they'll all be contemporary.
The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man is on the list of upcoming Universal horror stories, and there has even been some casting movement on it. Johnny Depp has been confirmed for the role, which is BIG news. Except... Depp also just surfaced as a key role in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them franchise. Does that mean he will be tied up in THAT universe, and unable to play in Universal's monster sandbox for long? Also, the tone of these horror stories could slightly shift in genre when this one finally comes out. Initially based on a sci-fi story by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man has inspired sci-fi, horror and comedy installments. His story also has been accounted for on the stage, and on radio. It's hard to know the film's direction until a director takes the reigns, though, and given who comes before him, it could be years until we "see" the Invisible Man on screen.
There is a bit more clarity when it comes to the Wolfman, as the initial THR story that explains this universe notes that Aaron Guzikowski specifically has been hired to usher the hairy anti-hero back to the big screen. The character has been around for decades, first appearing in 1941 with Lon Chaney Jr. in the howling lead. Benicio Del Toro tried to bring The Wolfman back in 2010, but this will be the first time in recent memory that Universal will attempt to use the creature in a larger tapestry of tales. Will he have "nards?" We can only hope.
Finally, the last name on Universal's wish list is the most intriguing of the bunch. The studio claims to want to mount a new Van Helsing movie -- and by the time they do, enough time should have passed to help us forget the Hugh Jackman debacle directed by Stephen Sommers. Van Helsing is a monster hunter, and the idea behind a Van Helsing picture should be to team all of the previously introduced Universal creatures in one movie, against a charismatic rogue. So far, Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer has been hired to write a treatment, and he told us exclusively that his story is a part of Universal's larger tapestry, so that's exciting. This project might be a long way off, but if Universal plays its cards right and builds its Dark Universe properly, then Van Helsing could be the Avengers-esque culmination of their work.
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.
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