Ever since The Avengers the world has been crazy for shared universes. Comic book fans have long been accustomed to standalone stories converging and separating for massive crossover spectaculars but it wasn’t until 2012 that Hollywood felt it was something to get into. Disney followed suit with the leapfrogging Star Wars and previously, merged their successful fairytales into a shared ‘Princesses’ continuity.
Fox had previously experimented with splintering solo characters from its ensemble X-Men films and doubled down by merging its 00s timeline with its 10s prequel storyline, before shooting solo characters out in other directions and loosely entertaining the idea of fusing with the Fantastic Four. Bravo to Fox – they did it right. DC famously began it’s Justice League with Superman in Man of Steel, then Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and maybe more in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s greenlight villian-themed Suicide Squad and solo movies to the side, but the real objective is Justice League: Part One and Two.
Sony did it’s best but overreached by injecting the Green Goblin/Hobgoblin into The Amazing Spiderman 2: Rise of Electro. As the title suggests, Jamie Foxx’s power-hungry villain was the core piece of this puzzle and probably the one that the writers actually chose. A studio bigwig got nervous their one character’s universe wasn’t big enough and saw to shoot it off in different directions. The Sinister Six, in which a team of villian’s co-operate to take down Spiderman, was more popular on the pages than Suicide Squad and would have be marvelous if done correctly. A memo was sent down to incorporate Harry Osborn and the Rhino in the film (bringing the Six to four established members) and litter the film with Easter eggs. The result was two movies morphed into one, competing for time before the never-before-seen crucially-important moment of Gwen Stacy’s death. Not overstuffed enough? A final memo indicated that Peter’s father created fan-favourite guaranteed moneymaker Venom and it should be a focus of the film.
The Amazing Spiderman 2: Rise of Electro, the Sony shared Spiderman universe and the rights to use the character in any profitable sense crumbled and the fan-celebrated Marvel-Sony deal came to be. Moviegoers hoped after the clusterfuck of Fantastic Four the same would come to pass with Fox. No such luck as yet.
Shared universes are not just limited to superhero films and Disney though. Over at Paramount it’s been confirmed that the expansive Transformers series, Battleship (haha!) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all set within the same universe. The next addition to this nostalgia world? Power Rangers. Aside from Easter eggs here and there this world has not crossed over at all, though the potential is there. With characters of this cheesiness great caution must be taken to avoid the fate of Sony.
Which brings us to the sixth of the Big Six – Universal Studios. After a record-breaking year including Straight Outta Compton, Jurassic World, Furious Seven and more it doesn’t seem a shared universe is their immediately priority. If Furious Eight is successful in recruiting Eva Mendes to return to the mutli-billion dollar franchise it is likely she will split into a female-centric spinoff within the same narrative, much like Expendables‘ once-planned Expenda-belles.
The other project for Universal is something called a “Monsters Universe” starring Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man and the Mummy. The reason these characters are known is they have been done to death, but in a world where ANOTHER MacBeth has been made it seems that familiarity can still sell at the box office. Well, slightly, with solo adventures I, Frankenstein starring Aaron Eckhart and Dracula Untold starring F&F villian Luke Evans recuperating their budget and not much else. Unsurprisingly, the critics were underwhelmed too.
Someone at Universal still has faith in this plan. The crossover continues to sit on their 2018 slate, shifting to April to avoid Spielberg’s next mega-project. Universal doesn’t need a tentpole shared universe, but still it gives this experiment every chance to succeed.
A few months back it was indicated ‘The Mummy’ portion of this would follow the lines of the Brendan Fraser trilogy and that the lead man would be Mission: Impossible‘s Tom Cruise. This changes everything! Eckhart and Evans may not have fired completely in their solo films but nobody can dispute the pair can act (The Dark Knight, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) or deliver a killer action flick (Olympus Has Fallen, Fast Six). As supporting characters in a Cruise title it is likely the script, budget and overall atmosphere will improve. The Mummy will get amazing press for being a remake and for Cruise. All they need to do it ride that momentum into the crossover.
Here’s the final nail in the coffin for the argument of why the shaky-concept Universal Monsters will succeed. Johnny Depp is the Invisible Man, and will likely receive second billing on the poster. An old-school League of Extraordinary Gentlemen type adventure starring Tom Cruise, Johhny Depp, Aaron Eckhart and Luke Evans? It will make money.
Just make sure they don’t stuff up The Wolf Man…
(In fact, just buy the rights to MTV’s Teen Wolf. The project is already 50-50. It’ll be safer that way, though it will never happen)
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