The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has convinced nearly every Hollywood studio to combine its individual characters into mega-franchises. Legendary is pitting Godzilla against King Kong in 2020; Fox briefly flirted with pairing the X-Men alongside the Fantastic Four; and, perhaps most controversially, Warner Bros. introduced most of the Justice League in a single film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which many critics and fans believed made it feel more like a commercial than a movie.
When it comes to the shared cinematic universe, Marvel is still king. But they weren't the first to come up with the idea; that credit belongs to their latest challenger, Universal Studios, which just released the first trailer for 2017's The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise:
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"When you look back at the history of the shared universe, the monsters were the first ones — Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was the first one," said The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman at an L.A. press event on November 30. "They'd done Frankenstein movies, several of them. ... Same with Wolf Man. They did it right, because ... the audience had to fall in love with each character first."
How Universal Is Studying Marvel's Playbook
The Mummy will kickstart a Universal monsterverse that includes Dracula, Frankenstein('s creature), the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Van Helsing, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Russell Crowe, who also appears in The Mummy).
"The promise of bringing them together is that they'll probably f**k each other up pretty badly," Kurtzman said.
But it may be a long time before we see them f**king each other up. Although Kurtzman never said the phrase "DCEU," he made it pretty clear that Universal admires Marvel's approach of building the characters individually over time instead of rushing to a marketable team-up.
"Maybe they don't all come together in one movie — we're not necessarily going to do The Avengers [with monsters]," Kurtzman said. "I can promise you we're not starting there," because "if [Marvel] had started with The Avengers, it probably wouldn't work."
Kurtzman's goal, and by extension Universal's, is "not so much build a universe; it's make a great Mummy movie — now, if ... you can plant the seeds for something else, fantastic, but the only way you can get there is if those seeds can be planted organically..."
So Why Did They Include Dr. Jekyll?
Kurtzman may be saying all the right things, but fans might roll their eyes over another iconic monster joining The Mummy — well, two of them, technically: Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde.
In the trailer, Crowe's proto-Two-Face introduces Tom Cruise's character to the lore of monster-kind. Kurtzman is perfectly aware of how that may look ("cynical...not right"), and swears there's a solid reason for it.
"There was a lot of debate about whether or not to put Dr. Jekyll in the movie, because the minute [we] say 'it's The Mummy but then Dr. Jekyll's in it,' you guys are all going to say, 'You're trying to sell me on a shared universe,'" Kurtzman said. "We wanted there to be an organization that was cataloging [monsters], following them, collecting them, determining the good ones from the bad ones — the keeper of that secret history." He considered creating a brand new character, but "it would have to be someone medical or scientific or some kind of a doctor, and that led us to Henry Jekyll."
Is Tom Cruise Actually The Villain Of This Movie?
You'd expect Tom Cruise in The Mummy to basically replace Brendan Fraser as the good guy who stops the bad guy — well, bad girl in this reboot, since Star Trek Beyond's Sofia Boutella plays the titular monster — but Kurtzman had a different dynamic in mind: you may feel more sympathy for the mummy.
Tom Cruise's character isn't necessarily a good guy. He's "very morally challenged," according to Kurtzman, much like the actor's roles in Collateral and Magnolia. And in some ways, his character is very much like Dr. Jekyll, setting up a mutual duality.
Meanwhile, the mummy herself appears to be taken prisoner by C.
"[W]hat separates a monster movie from a horror movie [is] the ability to fear the monster and fear for the monster, Kurtzman says, "which means getting to know the monster. ... It means giving the monster a story."
Is Tom Cruise Becoming The Mummy In Future Installments?
The trailer shows Cruise coming back from the dead after an airplane crash; he's received some kind of curse. As Kurtzman explains:
"You really can't make a Mummy movie without a curse. ... I'm most interested in stories where some kind of blessing or curse is put in the hands of someone who really shouldn't have it — and what it really does is tests their character. So when you have a character as morally challenged as Tom's is at the beginning of the movie, who's suddenly put in a situation that's going to test where on the spectrum his humanity really lies, you're talking now about a movie that's exploring how much human and how much monster is really going to exist in this guy, and where is the line between them? And can both of those things exist in one character and one person? ... If you're cursed, you've suddenly made a very unreliable protagonist who is dangerous in a way. And the minute you do that, all bets are off."
Besides that, Kurtzman says, he tried to avoid the foregone conclusion that "Tom Cruise is going to save the world...he always saves the world!" In monster movies, "If they solve problems by being their better selves, then they're not monsters anymore."
Hmm, so Cruise's character is cursed? And he's not saving the world or solving problems by being his better self? Is Tom Cruise, perhaps, going to be wearing full-body bandages himself as this franchise goes on?
More Of What To Expect From The Universal Monsterverse
Kutzman covered a lot of ground at the press event, so here's a few more tidbits:
- The monsters will, for the most part, keep their original designs. Kurtzman feels they are "too iconic" to change — for example, while the Frankenstein novel is in the public domain, "Universal owns the rights to bolts in the neck, flat top head, green face. So now take all that away, and I say, 'That's Frankenstein,' and you'll say, 'No, it's not.' If you ask a four-year-old child to draw Frankenstein, they're going to draw bolts in the neck, flat top head, green face. That is culturally embedded."
- The movies are taking a Star Wars: The Force Awakens approach to special effects. Kurtzman is a protégé of J.J. Abrams, so it's no coincidence that The Mummy was shot on location in Africa — not just on a green screen — and uses practical effects instead of CGI when possible, such as a zero-gravity flight scene.
- Dracula Untold is no longer canon. It may have been originally intended to kick off this cinematic universe, but the negative critical reception apparently convinced Universal to reboot its most famous vampire yet again.
- Van Helsing is in active development. Doctor Strange writer Jon Spaihts is working on the script. (Hey, it couldn't be any worse than the Hugh Jackman one, right?)
- The new Mummy film is influenced more by the Boris Karloff originals than by the '90s-'00s series. Especially the decision to set it in modern times instead of in the 1920s, since that "had just been done already — the last contemporary version of The Mummy was Karloff," said Kurtzman.
- No, Brendan Fraser isn't in it. Kurtzman gets asked this a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Please stop asking him about it?
The Mummy opens in theaters on June 9, 2017. Are you excited for this franchise, or not drinking up the monster energy?