Santa Monica, CA — When last we saw Tom Cruise’s character (whose name I can barely recall as it was so bland….wait a minute, he was called Nick Something) in The Mummy, he and his resurrected buddy were riding off into the desert landscape to Parts Unknown, both newbie Immortals in search of a Sequel.
Oy, The Mummy was a terrible film. Just terrible. Nothing worked.
Jammed in the middle of the crazy story was poor Russell Crowe holding court in The Prodigium, the hub of The Dark Universe, where the audience was supposed to one day meet Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, The Bride, and The Wolfman.
Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie & Co. will have to wait a minute for their respective solo Monster Movies as Universal regroups and commences its salvage operation. Architects Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan have left the franchise.
The Mummy made a respectable $400 million worldwide. Not much to salvage here. More like, a course correction. Make a good movie! Tell a great story! Set up the franchise in the End Credits, if you must.
Heads Up, Universal. I have a suggestion: Look to Television.
Specifically, spend the weekend binge-watching Showtime’s enthralling three seasons of Penny Dreadful, wherein, you will see a seamless gathering of Monsters like The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Grey, and The Bride.
More importantly, these Monsters exist within a really really good Story.
Master Storyteller Anne Rice is a recent convert and recently shared her thoughts on Penny Dreadful and the Dark Universe:
Rice, who is on a book tour promoting her own Mummy sequel co-written with son Christopher, Ramses The Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra, knows something about good horror writing. She’s a fan of the classic Universal monster movies. The studio should call her in for a meeting and bring her on board to help steer the rudderless ship.
You know who else Universal should meet with? John Logan!
Penny Dreadful is brilliant storytelling. Television was the perfect medium, too. Here, Everything Worked.
Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall, SPECTRE) clearly had a vision that his production team masterfully executed as they created period London by evoking foggy cobbled streets, mysterious horse-drawn carriages, and underground dwellings where monsters meet for a cuppa and some solace among friends.
The casting was dead on brilliant, too: Wonderful Actors Who Are Not Household Names.
Eva Green (Casino Royale) was put through an emotional wringer. Her scenes with John Clare, aka, The Monster, were so so moving, filled with wonderful depth and pathos. Rory Kinnear, a supporting player in the Daniel Craig Bond films (M’s assistant), breathes new life in a dead character we’ve seen so often.
Everyone has a monster within them. Moreover, our inner-monsters can be heroic.
Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Reeve Carney, and Billie Piper were equally excellent. Again, Everything Worked: Writing, Casting, Production Design. Everything. This series exemplifies the elusive Lightning in a Bottle. It is everything 2017’s The Mummy was not.
Am not sure John Logan would wish to re-tread this material for Universal, but it’s worth a conversation, and at the very least, a binge-viewing. He is currently at work in TV adapting Justin Cronin’s deeply disturbing American vampire saga, The Passage, for FOX. (A wonderful book, btw. Am still haunted by its imagery.)
Meanwhile, the notion that the studio has abandoned the franchise after one terrible film (that will make money for them in perpetuity) does not hold water.
Bill Condon (Beauty & the Beast, Twilight, Gods & Monsters) is still attached to direct The Bride of Frankenstein, however, its 2019 release date has been scratched. Jolie was being courted to star but was never formally attached to the film. Now, she can concentrate on Maleficent 2. David Koepp wrote the script, which is being heavily scrutinized.
Please, no more mindless action!
The studio is on record saying these films will be director-driven. I would advise looking abroad for these directors. For example, New Zealander Taika Waititi did a wonderful job infusing some Kiwi humor in Marvel’s latest mega-hit, Thor: Ragnorak.
Also, these films should not be star vehicles. The Monsters are the stars and should not be eclipsed by the actors portraying them (Depp, Jolie). Sofia Boutella is terrific as the Egyptian Princess in The Mummy. I wish she had been given a better Story and a lot more to do than just wreak mindless havoc once unearthed. More Boutella. Less Cruise.
In a sense, the Monster(s) in these films should somehow break the audience’s heart through their respective pain at the cruel hand dealt to them by Fate. Logan hits homerun after homerun via his characters in Penny Dreadful. As does Anne Rice in The Vampire Chronicles.
We. Must. Care. About. The. Characters.
There’s more life to be had in the Dark Universe. One misstep should not cancel an entire franchise. These are classic horror stories meant to thrill us. Again. And again.
Binge-watch Penny Dreadful. You will be glad you did.
N E X T U P:
The Room with THE View at SMU.