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Thread: Universal’s Dark Universe risks being yet another extended universe franchise

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    Universal’s Dark Universe risks being yet another extended universe franchise

    Already, red flags: no Dracula; no great protagonists; the shadow of Monster Squad.

    If you can't beat 'em, misunderstand 'em.

    That appears to be the logic coming from the programming wizards at Universal Studios. The film production company took the (mummy) wraps off its "Dark Universe" initiative on Monday, and its intent is clear: to "reboot" the company's old monster-movie franchises over the next few years with big-name actors, interconnecting plots, and a rising tide of evil—a tide, of course, that can only be stopped by good guys who don't always follow the rules.

    As if this didn't sound Marvel-y or Avengers-y enough, get a load of this official synopsis of what's to come:

    Dark Universe films are connected by a mysterious multinational organization known as Prodigium. Led by the enigmatic and brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll, Prodigium's mission is to track, study, and—when necessary—destroy evil embodied in the form of monsters in our world. Working outside the aegis of any government, and with practices concealed by millennia of secrecy, Prodigium protects the public from knowledge of the evil that exists just beyond the thin membrane of civilized society... and will go to any length to contain it.
    The stars are out for this cheese, with Universal's The Mummy reboot leading things off on June 9. That'll star Russell Crowe as the aforementioned Dr. Jekyll, Sofia Boutella as the titular mummy, and Tom Cruise as "soldier of fortune" Nick Morton. (No, you didn't miss anything; Morton is a brand-new character, as opposed to, like, Dracula's Daughter's second cousin once removed.) Universal is now officially connecting the dots of previously announced projects starring Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem; those actors will portray The Invisible Man and Frankenstein's Monster, respectively.

    Do we really need another freaking "extended universe?" And does this one even stand a chance?

    For starters, this five-actor announcement reeks of bet-hedging. Universal's "Monsters" universe contains all kinds of supernatural monster silliness, backed by nearly a century of schlocky films. But the whole thing seems half-baked without staking (sorry) anybody for Dracula or an otherwise vampiric role, and plenty of other obvious choices are missing from this reveal: the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or either of the Wolves of London. (Let alone the Abbott & Costello tie-in possibilities!)

    Meaning, Universal already appears to have a finger on a gun with a silver bullet—which it'll almost certainly shoot if Depp turns in another Lone Ranger stinker.

    Universal's bigger issue comes from its lack of memorable, beloved protagonists to stitch such a cinematic universe together. Sure, a high-budget monster-versus-monster film could have fun, silly moments, but the current contenders for "best cinematic universe" (as in, Marvel, Star Wars, and DC) have beloved heroes spilling from all sides. Universal has Van Helsing (whose 2004 film made tons of money in spite of sucking), and... uh... another generic, flat Tom Cruise character. Maybe "Scary German Guy" from Monster Squad.
    (Really, Monster Squad's utter failure to cash in during Universal's successful Monster-related run in the '80s should be the biggest, reddest flag of them all here.)

    Global audiences may very well gobble up familiar monster names for a fun weekend flick, but the full "universe" cash-in potential—toys, clothes, video games, comics, repeat screenings, etc., etc.—will depend on these series inspiring the kind of unabashed fanboy and fangirl love that gets dumped onto other universes' biggest stars. Good luck getting anywhere near Darth Vader and Han Solo levels of fandom for Dr. Jekyll and... Mick... Chester?
    Oh, sorry, his name is Nick Morton. I'm sure he'll do great.

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    I like The Mummy. It should be interesting to see how the reboot goes with Tom Cruise in the lead spot.


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