In the wake of Marvel’s seemingly unstoppable success, many studios are rushing to mimic their winning formula. Fox and Sony are trying to get their own Marvel shared universes up and running with their characters. DC is on the way to launching a Justice League universe, which has been in the works for awhile now. These universe aren’t just about superheroes though. Dan Aykroyd wants to launch an entire Ghostbuster universe complete with movies and shows. While some seem to be doing better than others, many studios simply see the potential pay out and try to bull rush towards it.
Now, this last weekend I took the time to knock another movie off my watch list. Dracula Untold tells the story of the prince of darkness and how he gained his powers. While largely unsurprising, the film did do a pretty great job of redefining the character and giving purpose to his actions. This film successfully adds depth to a character whose kind in recent years have been reduced to one dimensional villains and heroes preying on the tropes associated with them. This film was average overall and if you like fantasy/action/adventure flicks, it is definitely worth your attention. However, that’s not what I am here to talk about.
Much like it’s fellow studios, Universal is jumping on board the shared universe train and starting their own. Avoiding the superhero genre, they are focusing on their classic movie monsters starting with Dracula and moving on to include The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster and bride, The Mummy, and more. Without giving away too much of Dracula‘s secrets, it looks as if the main tension in this universe will be between Dracula (Luke Evans) and his creator The Master Vampire (Charles Dance). It’s too early to tell exactly how this universe will work but we already know that it will be more action-adventure than horror.
Lets start with that. Abandoning the horror genre completely I believe would be a mistake. That is where these monsters got their start and that is the realm that they belong to. I understand wanting to make these characters more accessible to audiences, I just hope they keep to their original interpretations at least a little bit. This in my opinion is the first step to making this universe work. We have enough superhero movies coming our way, literally 40 planned movies in the next 6 years. I honestly don’t think we need anything else resembling a superhero movie. So, by focusing on the horror aspect Universal can still differentiate their characters from the larger pantheon of big screen heroes.
What Universal will need to do in order to be successful is differentiate themselves from the other shared universes. Keeping one foot in the horror genre is one way to do that. The other way to do that is not make these monster heroes. They are after all, monsters with very evil tendencies. For instance, Dracula is a good guy putting his friends and family first. Gaining his dark powers is a direct result of trying to protect his people. Yet at the end of the day he still has to suck the blood of people to stay alive. His fellow monsters are equally tortured and forcefully evil. If Universal keeps this in mind we will have a group of very unique characters that have to deal with far more than the average superhero.
Staying on this tortured soul idea, these monster’s have to deal with things that their superhero counterparts just don’t have to. First, they are monsters hated and feared throughout their life. Take Dracula, even though he is a good guy all he see’s about himself is this personification of evil. That by itself is pretty heartbreaking when you think about it. The closest we get to the tortured hero concept is The Hulk and the X-men. However, even they don’t have it that bad. The Hulk who is always aware of the thin line between hero and monster, is still largely accepted as a hero. The X-men are hated sure but the majority of their powers also don’t require them to kill people. Universal will have a group of “heroes” that are not only struggling with a larger threat but with their own failings as well.
Fair warning Dracula Untold spoilers ahead.
We know that at the end of Dracula and from other moments during the film, that his creator is planning something. The last line of dialogue is from him saying “Let the games begin”. I believe we will see a battle for the soul of the world essentially. With The Master Vampire and Dracula being the generals trying to either plunge the world into darkness or keep it in the light. This will require foot shoulders to fight this battle. I hope that we will see these two battling it out with various monster pawns, with iconic monsters on each side. Essentially, Dracula will be the Nick Fury of this universe but he will have more personal motivations for trying to stop his Master. This could lead him to use less than savory means to bring monsters to his side. It all adds another layer to these monster’s relationship dynamics with each other and how they deal with the outside world.
It will be interesting to see how this whole universe shapes up. I think that if Universal tries to distance themselves from the superhero genre as much as possible instead of mimicking it, the better off they will be. Focusing on these tortured monsters and having them operate in a world of grey will differentiate their universe from others. By doing this they will have characters that struggle with their own failings which makes them more interesting and more relatable. Out of all the shared universes on the horizon, I am most intrigued by Universal’s. They have a real opportunity to make a unique film experience, as long as they keep the mimicry to a minimum.
Side Note: The majority of the monster films settings from here on out will be present day. So instead of getting origin stories for each monster, I think we will be seeing these monsters as already being established. Monsters potentially involved are Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and bride, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and Van Helsing. Some others may be included but it is simply to early to tell.