Marvel made the template. DC tried to borrow it. Tencent and Toho are using it. New Line Cinema is crushing it. And Universal smothered it before it had a chance to breathe.
Creating “universes” is the new thing for production houses to create a family of movies under one roof, and fill every room in that house with countless piles of cash. And who can blame them? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, try hard to repair it.
The MCU showed all these movie studios how to get it done. From there, we had the haphazard DCEU, the riveting Monsterverse, and the revolutionary Conjuring universe. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, we were provided the Dark Universe.
On paper, it had all the makings of a mint: Hollywood’s Golden Era, classic characters, A-List actors, and a top house backing it. On screen? Well, we will never know because it was stuck in a drawer (or flushed down a toilet) after only one film: The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella.
There have been countless theories and a few structured ideas, but after two years following the colossal fart-and-fall-down inception of the Dark Universe, Chris Morgan finally decided now was the time to take it out to pasture.
The scribe behind the Furious franchise (at least every film from Tokyo Drift to Hobbs & Shaw) sat down with io9 and shared his feelings about the first franchise he attempted to create.
“I don’t [have] regrets or anything like that,” Morgan said. “I think it’s just, you know, I think it probably was trying to come together too quickly, I would say. And I think everyone got to take a breath and take a step back and take a look at it, and now just focus on maybe doing it a little bit slower.”
“Coming together too quickly”?! Yeah, DC Comics and Warner Bros. would like to have a word, Chris. He launched the Dark Universe with a reboot and some flash. A different story, establish the hero (Cruise as ‘Nick Morton’), solidify the monster (Boutella as ‘Ahmanet’), and even introduce characters for future development (Russell Crowe as ‘Dr. Jekyll’).
The formula was there. Unfortunately, no one at Universal were experts at elementary math.
The article points out the stumbles Universal took following The Mummy was laughed out of movie theaters.
- Cancel what was next, Bride of Frankenstein
- Reimagine what was to come, The Invisible Man with Johnny Depp
Annnnd…that’s as far as it got. Depp was let go from the project. The Invisible Man is now Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Haunting of Hill House) and will also star Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale). Sounds great, but it may or may not be connected to the beleaguered franchise once it’s released in March 2020.
“I think Universal’s going about the monster films the right way,” Morgan said about the new strategy. “Which is to really focus on taking a good script, good story, put it out there, if you’re going to build a universe build it from something strong like that. And I think they’re not so much worried about putting a universe out there as they are making great monster films, so I’m looking forward to seeing them.”
(INTERPRETATION: We didn’t have a good script or a good story the first time.)
Gods and Monsters…are Dead?
It was heralded as the next big thing to hit theaters. It ended up as just another thing many moviegoers had stuck to the bottom of its collective shoe.
So what really happened?
They had the marketing budget, the big stars (including Cruise, Depp, Boutella, Javier Bardem, and Russell Crowe), and a blueprint provided by Hollywood’s Golden Age. Then, The Mummy happened and Universal lost more than $100 million.
It’s obvious Universal hasn’t given up the ghost on the Dark Universe idea. Have you seen what they plan to create in Florida (as they stick their tongue out at Disney)? The “Epic Universe” theme park seems to be built precisely to compete with a certain Star Wars-theme park down the road.
As shared previously, The Invisible Man is coming to theaters, so there is a chance based on profitability and interest that Universal may resurrect this dead idea. And they should consider it because those were some of the most imaginative and iconic films ever made.
Think about it: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolfman, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein. Any of those monsters ring a bell because it’s not like there hasn’t been a dozen remakes or inspired storylines per character over the past 80 years.
It seems Universal just needs a Kevin Feige–a chief architect to bring the band back together (COUGH…Jason Blum/Blumhouse Pictures…COUGH). With today’s VFX and CGI, there is no reason why a Dark Universe shouldn’t work. The stories are there. The actors could be there. Hollywood is ripe with writers. They just need some duct tape to patch things up.
Can they? Will they? We’ll find out in March. (And hopefully, Jason Blum will be watching.)