They’ve settled on “The Dark Universe” – Universal’s name for its new Expanded Universe of inter-connected films. They’ve got the rights to most of the iconic old-school horror properties out there and this
Assuming that the Tom Cruise-headlining The Mummy reboot succeeds (and early indications are not good…), Universal are already developing the next few entries, with Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll possibly proving to be part of the glue that holds them all together. Javier Bardem looks like he’d make a great Frankenstein’s monster and at least with Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man we’ll be more likely to be spared too much over-acted mugging. It makes sense for Universal to set out its stall early on – there is a significant built-in audience for these characters and although Van Helsing did a sensationally ham-fisted job of it, the scope for intelligent and interesting overlap and cross-pollination is high.
Although we cannot be entirely sure whether our own universe is indeed expanding, the various movie universes out there surely are. Marvel and DC have pretty solidly established theirs and it seems as though talk of cross-overs and expanded universes crop up on a weekly basis.
Well established and the current gold standard for movie Expanded Universes, Marvel have shown everyone else how it should be done. Even with less well known (and potentially risky) properties like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, Marvel keep churning out hit after hit, keeping critics and audiences almost uniformly satisfied. Indeed it could be argued that it is the trickier properties that Marvel are developing to the greatest success.
Starting with Iron Man and building from there with post-credit stings and then cross-overs, Marvel have built a movie universe all of their own that made Disney’s purchase of Marvel Studios for $4bn feel like an absolute steal. Whether it is the “true” mash-ups of the Avengers films, or dropping cameos into Thor: The Dark World or Ant-Man, Marvel keeps the hits coming and every time it looks like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, they churn out another crowd-pleasing hit.
With Spider-Man (Home)coming back into the fold this year and esoteric entries like Captain Marvel and Black Panther still to come, it is easy to feel reassured that even as gargantuan a behemoth as Infinity War is in safe hands and destined to be another multi-billion dollar success.
DC are playing catch up to Marvel, both in volume and quality. Despite having indisputable icons in their lockup in the shape of Superman and Batman, they have given Marvel an almost decade-long head start, resulting in the clumsy shoe-horning of Aquaman, Cyborg and Flash into Batman v Superman. Whereas Marvel took their time, DC are now in a real hurry and the cracks show. Man of Steel was a genuinely strong entry, albeit quite muted compared to Richard Donner’s efforts, but as Nolan’s iteration of Batman has given way to Snyder’s, something has been lost in the descent towards ever more gritty and somber entries. Suicide Squad was a mess and BvS genuinely seemed to collapse under its own weight.
Wonder Woman picked up really strong reviews and has landed a terrific opening weekend at the worldwide box office and although the change of director for Justice League has come in the most tragic and undesirable of circumstances, it will be interesting to see what Joss Whedon brings tonally to his work on the film. The Flash has a great reputation from the solid TV series which should help it find a big screen audience, but it still seems to be mired in developmental problems.
Batman seems to be battling against the reluctance of its star, who looks for all the world like a man trying to extricate himself from a role he wishes he had never taken on – which can only bode terribly for future films, potentially populated by a lead actor who is there by nothing more than contractual obligation.
As mentioned above, Universal are looking to make a strong start on their own Expanded Universe. Rather than follow DC’s error of sticking everything in one film (and perhaps learning from their own mistake in that regard in Van Helsing), Universal have instead announced a slate of stand-alone films, with the promise of connective tissue and the possibility of a future mash-up á là The Avengers if they each work in their own right.
Unlike Marvel and DC, it is far to early to say whether this particular Universe will prosper, but it does at least have good ingredients. Accomplished actors, rich characters and (at least from the latest trailer for The Mummy) an enjoyable tone. It could work.
We’ve just had the announcement of a director for Godzilla vs Kong and he was kind enough to tweet out a straw poll to see who we think will win. Kong: Skull Island went down really well with audiences and critics and Gareth Edwards’ respectful and engaging treatment of Godzilla back in 2014 did no harm in setting this up as a franchise with legs.
Needless to say, Skull Island’s ramping up of Kong’s stature was essential if this particular face-off was to last beyond the opening two seconds, but both creatures seem to have been brought to the big screen lately with sufficient care to provide some reassurance that bringing in further monstoids and setting these iconic creatures against each other can be emotionally engaging rather than a vacuous CGI slug-fest. Now all they need to do is draft in some of the Kaiju from Pacific Rim and we’ll all be having a splendid time. C’mon WB/Legendary, you’ve got them all on your roster – you know it makes sense.
21 JUMP STREET & MIB
This one seems to have gone away and to be honest it is genuinely hard to understand where the notion first came from and who might have thought it had legs. 21 and 22 Jump Street are huge fun, poking knowing fun at both their source material and adaptations/sequels in general. Men in Black was fantastic, lean fun which wholly lost its way with the under-cooked sequel, before a marked recovery of form for the third (and so far final) entry. But how are they supposed to populate the same universe?
It’s not just a question of action-comedy vs sci-fi – there simply aren’t enough tonal similarities to enable the two worlds to mesh. Are J & K going to go undercover in an aliens-only college? Are Schmidt & Jenko going to help smash an alien-centric drug cartel?
This one has always felt like a square peg in a round hole and whatever 22 Jump Street’s closing credits might have done to or said about further sequels, it seems problematic to say the least to try to shoe-horn one franchise into the other.
From sequels and prequels to spin-offs, Star Wars has always had an expanded universe through computer games and novels, but it’s only since Disney got their mitts on LucasFilm that the big screen has begun to get in on the act. From Rogue One, through Han Solo and Boba Fett, much is clearly now on the drawing board or starting blocks and there seems to be an almost endless pool from which to draw stories, characters and ideas.
Almost a generation ago we had the Ewok and Droids spin-off cartoons and much more recently we’ve had the well-received Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels CGI-animation series. Certainly Star Wars hasn’t made as many inroads on TV as Marvel and DC have, but there is still a presence there.
Given how successful the Rogue One spin-off/prequel/side-quel was ($1bn+ worldwide B.O.), it stands to reason that more will follow. The Han Solo origin project is well underway and has (unsurprisingly) attracted a stellar cast. Talk persists of an Obi-Wan back story, possibly with Ewan McGregor donning the brown robe once again. Boba Fett is likely to remain an all-time fan-favourite and so digging into him a bit more makes sense too. With such a rich canon, it seems like this universe is going to keep giving.
It is astounding that this franchise still has legs, but money talks. The 1980’s anime-inflected series and movie were great fun, but few could have anticipated the behemoth that awaited in the noughties. Despite highly variable quality, Michael Bay keeps coming back to his giant robots and audiences continue to make it worth his while. The Last Knight seems to be looking to further expand the mythology and to tie the Autobots and Decepticons ever more closely to Earth’s own mythologies. Anthony Hopkins will undoubtedly deliver some much-needed gravitas, even if his dead eyes betray a dialled-in performance.
But aside from this fifth entry in the multi-billion-dollar saga, Bay announced that there would be a further fourteen (14!!!!) films developed as part of the franchise. Crikey. That’s a lot of robot-on-robot action. We know that a Bumblebee spin-off is being worked on, but that still leaves a baker’s dozen to be made and presumably only a modest number of those would be direct sequels to the series so far.
To develop spin-offs and origin stories for supposedly beloved Transformers seems to be assuming a little too much about how invested audiences are in these characters. Yes, the carnage and bleeding-edge CGI have an appeal, but do I really need or want to know much about Ironhide’s backstory or how the Dinobots came to be? No. No I don’t.