I love being right, mainly because it doesn’t happen often, but last August I suggested that Jason Blum (Insidious, Split, Get Out) should take over Universal’s Dark Universe. The movie Gods listened as that is exactly what has happened.
News broke recently that against all the odds, Universal wasn’t done trying to revive their classic roster of movie monsters. They weren’t kidding as they hired Leigh Whannell (Saw, Upgrade, Insidious) to write and direct The Invisible Man. As an added extra, Johnny Depp is no longer involved having been attached to the film for more than two years.
For a quick reminder for those of you that purged it from your mind, The Dark Universe is the banner than Universal intended to launch a Marvel styled (sigh) connected universe for its monsters to wreak havoc. First out the gate was The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe popped up as Dr Jeykll who would serve as a Nick Fury type character to connect the films. Critics loved it, audiences couldn’t get enough, and The Mummy made $1 billion worldwide. Not really, The Mummy tanked at the box office and seemingly killed the Dark Universe dead in the face!
The biggest problem with The Mummy (aside from the script, and Russell Crowe’s cor blimey attempt at an English accent) was the scale. Universal’s monsters don’t need to cover the world in darkness; the stakes don’t need to be that high for audiences to invest. Alex Kurtzman (who directed The Mummy) and Chris Morgan (Fast and Furious) were hired to map out the Dark Universe, plotting out multiple films and a crossover movie that would bring them all together. Much like Paramount setting up a Transformers writer’s room, this endeavour proved to be fruitless. To be fair, Bumblebee was born out of that writer’s room, and it’s the best live-action Transformers movie to date.
Blumhouse specialises in smaller more concept or character driven horror stories, for the most part. Treating the monsters with respect and giving them depth should be at the forefront of the Dark Universe, they were always more than a mindless (or generic) villain. That is The Mummy went wrong; it was a Tom Cruise film first second and third, then it was about setting up the future, then the titular character. Sofia Boutella as Ahmane was given nothing to do, I felt more empathy for Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep in Stephen Sommer’s version. Maybe there was some character stuff cut out, but Boutella was poorly served in the final cut. Had the movie be called Nick Morton: Totally Not In My 50s Adventurer, fine, but it was called The Mummy, and she’s barely got any screen time.
Jason Blum’s involvement and the hiring of Leigh Whannell is a clear sign that Universal is throwing out the old plan, and there is every reason to be optimistic that the Dark Universe could be something special. It remains unclear if Bill Condon’s cancelled Bride of Frankenstein will be resurrected, but I have a feeling Universal would rather start from scratch.