Is Universal on its way to botching its planned series of Universal Monster reboots? Based on a piece published yesterday in Variety, it's certainly starting to sound that way.
According to the article, which features interviews with Universal head Donna Langley and writers Alex Kurtzman (“Transformers”) and Chris Morgan (“Furious 7”), the studio has hired a stable of storyboard artists, designers and writers to bring such characters as Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy and the Wolfman to life for contemporary audiences. The iconic monsters, each of which has a specific writer or writers attached, will inhabit a “shared universe” in a series of interconnected films set in modern day.
As Kurtzman put it: “The idea is that we have a deep bench of brains to consult with about how their monster fits into our world as we go forward.”
Added Morgan: “”This is not a heightened world. We”re exploring issues of family identity and questions of, ‘Where do I belong in the world?” ”
At first glance, it seems like a solid strategy: take a slew of classic, widely popular movie characters, update them for a modern audience, take a cue from the most successful “shared universe” of all time (the MCU) and sit back and watch as the truckloads of money roll in. There's just one problem with that: the Marvel model simply doesn't translate well to the Universal Monsters.
The reason the Marvel films work as interconnected stories is that the characters' relationships were already established in the crossover-heavy comic book world, where it wasn't unusual for readers to see members of the Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four sharing the same panel. The Universal Monsters, by contrast, existed in their own separate universes; they were, for all intents and purposes, mutually exclusive worlds. It wasn't until those infamous “monster mashup” films of the 1940s and '50s that the characters came together on screen, to diminishing returns.
Universal's attempt to shoehorn these characters into a paradigm perfected by Marvel (and one that may be all-but-impossible to duplicate) may make sense commercially, but creatively it feels disingenuous. Audiences accepted the Marvel crossover films because they stayed true to the world that had already been created. That's not the case here.
There's also the issue of tone. The original Universal Monster movies were horror films through and through (with some inevitable sci-fi and fantasy elements mixed in), and by hiring Kurtzman and Morgan — writers largely known for their work on big-budget Hollywood action films like “Transformers,” “Fast and Furious” and “Star Trek” — to take the lead, Universal appears to be taking a “four-quadrant” approach with these, in essence going for the same audience that's made the Marvel mega-franchise so wildly successful.