The next big shared fantasy movie universe is underway. Starting with the The Mummy on June 9, Universal plans to release six monster movies in as many years. The films will see heroes and villains from different franchises interacting, teaming up, and battling each other. It will be the biggest multi-movie project since Disney's Star Wars and Marvel sagas.
Some of the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe screenplays have already been written, and some have been cast. Here are the latest updates on the horror renaissance.
This ain't your mother's Mummy
John Spaihts, who wrote Doctor Strange, has also written The Mummy and worked on the new Van Helsing. During his Doctor Strange press tour, he told The Hollywood Reporter:
"I think [there is] a similar desire to legitimately explore the frightening and the cosmic. In The Mummy, I think we're going to see the first Mummy film in the entire Universal canon with the true power to terrify. The earliest [Boris] Karloff and Bela Lugosi Mummy movies were scary in a small way, perhaps a dated way. They were almost parlor movies. Subsequent movies have been more swashbuckling. This one is going to have all of that action and adventure, but a legitimate power to terrify. I think that's going to be the new experience of that film."
That's good news for fans who thought the Brendan Fraser Mummy trilogy (and don't forget the Scorpion King spin-offs) veered so far into the adventure genre that they were basically Indiana Jones films, with little connection to the classic 1932 original. Fun, yes, but perhaps not what horror fans expected.
The Mummy stars Tom Cruise, while the title role goes to Sofia Boutella, recently seen as Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond. It's a cool gender flip that I hope Universal considers for other heroes and monsters in future films.
Van Helsing will be the next great movie hero
Spaihts also gave a few hints about his new take on the character of Van Helsing, the monster hunter from Dracula who got his own, over-the-top movie in 2004. Spaihts told Collider:
"It’s a new creation, so it doesn’t owe much of a debt to prior films, but it is still a very romantic departure from the character as incepted in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, where it was a Dutch doctor who figures out a very surprising answer to an odd medical question. This is a monster hunter with encyclopedic knowledge, but it’s set in the present day and it’s just filled with good stuff I’m not allowed to talk about. But I’m very excited about this new incarnation of Van Helsing, and I hope that as the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe begins to take flight, we’ll see him cropping up in other stories, as well."
With so many great monsters, Universal needs a character who can challenge their evil, their magic, and their fury. Of course, it's possible that the monsters will be the heroes—poor Lawrence Talbot doesn't want to be a werewolf, after all—and that Van Helsing will be a sort of Javert from Les Miserables, a noble but misguided enforcer who fails to see the humanity in his quarry.
Spaihts's co-writer, Eric Heisserer, offered another clue. He told Uproxx, "I can only say that early on, our inspiration for his behavior and his mannerisms was all in Mad Max." It makes sense that someone who hunts monsters for a living might be (or has been driven) a little mad. Remember the famous Nietzsche quote?
Van Helsing has no cast and no release date yet. The image above is Christopher Plummer playing the role in Dracula 2000.
The Bride May Appear Before Frankenstein's Monster
Though there have been rumors of Javier Bardem playing the famous creature, Universal has no writer or release date for Frankenstein. The studio does have a writer for Bride of Frankenstein, however—David Koepp, known for Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and the first Spider-Man.
During interviews for his latest film, Inferno, Koepp told Collider:
"I loved it. It’s one of my favorite scripts I’ve written in years because if you re[imagine the Frankenstein story, it gets into so many issues of men trying to feel dominant over women. To create someone who then says, 'You don’t own me,' it becomes a tale of liberation. It was great. It was really fun, and I hope it gets going soon because I think it’d make for a great movie."
Certainly gender issues have changed a lot since both the 1818 novel and the 1931 film. The controversies of science have only become more complex, as we now grapple with bio-engineering, genetics, artificial intelligence, and the possibility that humanity will simply destroy the planet. The film is set in the modern day, so how many of these themes might come up?
Koepp added that he wanted fans to know "[h]ow fun it is and how liberating it is. Narratively and stylistically to write a character who’s dead. She’s not a zombie. She’s a super-intelligent creature, but she’s dead, and that changes a person’s perspective."
Bride has no cast or release date yet. Angelina Jolie is one possibility. May I recommend Eva Green?
Big names are on the way
The current casting rumors for some of the major characters in the UMCU include:
- Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man
- Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll
- Dwayne Johnson as the Wolf Man
- Tom Hardy as Victor Frankenstein
- Scarlett Johansson starring in (but not portraying) The Creature from the Black Lagoon
- Luke Evans possibly reprising his role as Dracula from Dracula Untold
Only Depp is confirmed, as far as I can tell. As scripts change, actors could enter and exit the projects. With Tom Cruise as an "anchor," some pretty big stars are attracted to the UMCU—and the job security a recurring role brings.
What are your thoughts on the Universal Monsters reboot films? Howl away in the comments.