“Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”
This line, lifted from Universal’s 1935 ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ in tribute to the Hollywood studio’s horror heritage, is how Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll introduces Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton to the concept of the Dark Universe in ‘The Mummy’.
The Dark Universe is Universal’s first foray into the world of live action shared movie universes in the vein of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse (Godzilla, King Kong), and ‘The Mummy’ (out this week) is the studio’s opening salvo.
It sees Tom Cruise battling an ancient evil (‘Star Trek Beyond’ star Sofia Boutella is the gender-flipped villain), and elements of the forthcoming Dark Universe are weaved in by Crowe’s urbane Dr. Jekyll. Telling a satisfying self-contained story in ‘The Mummy’ while also introducing the shared universe concept is something director – and Dark Universe creative lead – Alex Kurtzman admits he struggled with.
“This movie was all about balance and I think that, for me, the only way I could approach it was to say we want to make a satisfying ‘Mummy’ movie,” Kurtzman told Yahoo Movies. “We want a beginning, middle, and an end to that story. And then, in the context of that, if we can open the door to Dark Universe and just tease… not give too much away, but just tease, and say yes, the mummy is just one of many monsters. The mummy was probably the first, and maybe the oldest, but there are many, many more.”
Jekyll works for Prodigium, a secret organisation housed beneath London’s Natural History Museum, that keeps tabs on supernatural activity around the world and looks set to be the centre of the new Dark Universe in the way S.H.I.E.L.D. bound Marvel’s Phase One together. The duality of his character (spoilers for a 130+ years story: he’s also got supernatural powers) makes him the perfect character to nudge the Dark Universe door firmly open, even if Kurtzman was initially resistant to include him.
“The idea of Henry Jekyll was the source of a lot of debate, because as a viewer I tend not to like universes where 50 characters are thrown at me before I’ve had a chance to really get to know any one of them. We needed someone who was going to explain to [Nick] what was happening to him and what that world was all about. It needed to be somebody who had his own relationship to evil, who had both good and evil in him. In that way Henry serves as a mirror to Nick’s character and even though, intuitively, you wouldn’t think Henry Jekyll would be in a ‘Mummy’ movie, suddenly there was an organic reason to do it.”
There are currently no plans for a Dr. Jekyll standalone movie in the Dark Universe – yet. The next Dark instalment – ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ – has been slated for release in February 2019, and Alex Kurtzman says the studio is planning annual releases beyond that (“that’s the plan,” he confirmed). ‘Beauty and The Beast’ director Bill Condon is tackling ‘The Bride’, a fitting choice as Condon’s first movie ‘Gods and Monsters’ retold the story of James Whale, the gay British filmmaker responsible for Universal’s original 1935 ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, starring Boris Karloff.
We’ve been promised Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster in future Dark Universe films and, if rumours are to be believed, possibly Angelina Jolie as his Bride, and The Rock as Wolf Man, but they’ve yet to be officially confirmed. The end goal, Kurtzman admits, was inspired by the ‘Castle Dracula’ stage show that ran at Universal Studios Tour in the 1980s.
“It was like a monster spectacular and it took place in Dracula’s castle and it involved Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. I remember the feeling of the lights going down and the terror and fascination I had. That led me to watching all the monster films, the original Universal classics. I was struck by them and they endured with me as they have obviously endured with people for so many generations.
“Right now we’re developing a lot of scripts and our goal is to create independent monster movies that are in and of themselves wholly satisfying and then ultimately each one will open another layer to the larger universe. The beauty of that is we’ve got Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Invisible Man, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Phantom… all of these amazing characters that really deserve their own films.
“People forget that the Universal Monsters was the first shared universe; it started with ‘Frankenstein meets Wolf Man’. And that’s what made it exciting, and we want to follow that example and make sure the audience gets satisfying individual monster films that ultimately lead up to something bigger.”
We press Kurtzman to ask if that means an Avengers-style team up movie in the ultimate goal.
“I go back to my experiences as a kid in that Dracula’s castle show and how amazing it was to see all those monsters together, so if we could there organically I would love to.”
‘The Mummy’ arrives in cinemas on Friday, 9 June.