Universal monster movie poster

Universal’s Dark Universe Update: No Fun Or An Inspired Monster Mash?

Universal’s “Dark Universe” is the name given to its upcoming series of remakes for the iconic monster movies the studio produced in the early to mid-1900s. The Mummy, which will be the first entry in the series, is coming out this Friday. Fandom reports that Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Invisible Manare all coming in the future. Critics are worried the universe may fail, but new developments recently went some way in allaying that fear.

An example of one of those worried critics is Forbes film and pop culture writer Dani Di Placido, who is very concerned indeed, both because the trailer for The Mummy looks too grim and because he feels Universal’s general concept for their Dark Universe is flawed.

First of all, Di Placido claims the trailer does not make the movie look fun in any way. It is the trailer for a gritty, serious action-adventure movie typical of Tom Cruise, who is the film’s star. Which would be fine if the film were an original composition. The Universal Monsters are so genre-defining and are so cliche by this point, though, that the straight horror-adventure approach just won’t work anymore.

“They’ve been distilled through various mediums of pop culture for decades, to the point where they’ve become so familiar it’s impossible to take them too seriously. They’re so old they’ve become archetypes and tropes. A shared universe featuring all these characters should be about deconstructing the genre, not building a universe,” Di Placido writes.

“‘Frankenstein and Dracula meet The Wolfman’ sounds like a great idea for a stoner sitcom, but an action movie? Ugh. Unless these characters are re-imagined practically beyond recognition, there’s little incentive to pay the price for a cinema ticket.”

And they won’t be re-imagined, noted Alex Kurtzman, The Mummy‘s writer and director and one of the main players designing this Universal monster-verse, in a recent interview about the movie with IGN. He said that that the character designers for Universal’s Dark Universe are changing as little as possible about the appearances or personalities of the monsters to retain as much of the “nostalgia factor” as possible.

Di Placido claimed the reboots of The Mummy by Brendan Fraser were enjoyable because their approach to the story was “light-hearted and child-friendly.” The trailer makes it look like this year’s iteration of The Mummy will not be, and that probably means the future films in Universal’s Dark Universe will not be either.

Second, Di Placido continues, the Universal Monsters may be well-known, but they don’t have the cohesiveness and existing fan-base that superheroes have, which is what makes a film universe work.

“Marvel and DC had the unparalleled advantage of decades of comic-book lore,” Di Placido points out. “Convoluted crossovers, multiple realities and iconic characters who’d never received respectable big-screen treatment. Not to mention a pre-existing audience, and a dedicated one at that. Comic-books are studied like religious texts.”

But there are two sides to every coin, and there is plenty that gets people excited about Universal’s Dark Universe and its prospects.

For instance, there is the A-list cast of actors that Horror News Network writes are already tagged to lead the movies. The Mummy will star Tom Cruise as mercenary Nick Morton and Sofia Boutella as the Mummy. Russel Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll will also figure into the film, although it has not yet been announced how. The Invisible Man will star Johnny Depp, Bride of Frankenstein may feature Angelina Jolie, and Javier Bardem will play Frankenstein’s Monster.

Universal's monster-verse actors
Left to right: Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Sofia Boutella. [Image by Universal]

What Kurtzman had to say in his recent sitdown with IGN also filled many fans of classic horror with renewed hope that the return of the monsters would be done right.

“For me, the thing that defines the Universal Monsters as it’s own genre, separate from even really The Hammer monsters and horror films and slasher films,” Kurtzman told IGN in a recent interview, is that “you fear the monster and you fear for the monster. Those original monster films were – they were character films. They were played by movie stars who imbued those monsters with a heartbreak and an agony, a pathos and a emotion that I think is so specific to the Universal monsters.”

He continued that while watching the Universal monster movies as a child, he had been deeply impacted by the distinct brand of sympathetic, yet horrifying freakishness that these monsters brought to the table. He used the example of how Frankenstein’s monster literally smothered his victims with friendship to illustrate his point.

“In his desire to connect didn’t realize he was destroying the very thing that he wanted to connect with. To me that symbolizes what the monsters are about.”

“For almost 100 years,” he added, “these monsters have endured, I think, because they represent something so human.”

That sounds like some serious vision driving the cinematic universe, many point out.

Dancing with the creature
Monsters are people, too. [Image by Michael Buckner/Getty Images]

Kurtzman clarified that the movies would not contain clever winks within each movie to the other Dark Universe installations, like the after-credits scenes we have seen in the superhero genre, unless the new iconic monster is a major part of the plot.

“No, no, that’s Marvel’s domain,” he clarified. “Maybe it’ll feel more appropriate down the line, as the universe builds itself. I don’t think any of wanted to be accused of ripping off what they did so well [sic].”

In fact, the Dark Universe is not going to focus nearly so much on connecting the different entries in any respect (at least in the first few installments); instead focusing on the individual movies.

“I tend to feel like the best way to build a universe is to deliver individual satisfying films. If the audiences like those films, the universe will begin to build itself,” Kurtzman explained.

But when asked whether Johnny Depp, the character from the projected third movie in the Universal Dark Universe, would show up at the end of Bride of Frankenstein, the second movie of said universe, Kurtzman implied that he would.

“You’ll have to see,” he said. Which more than likely is a cryptic way of saying “yes,” the IGN piece adds.

Old TV movie
A 1959 television version of ‘The Invisible Man.’ [Image by Ken Howard/BIPs/Getty Images]

Are you excited for The Mummy and the universe that will come after it, or do you tend to agree with Di Placido after watching the trailer for the upcoming movie? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Featured Image By Universal]

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