I think about the Dark Universe more than I ever figured I would. And I certainly think more about it now than I would have it turned into some sort of halfway success. Yes, to be honest, the capacity it takes up in my brain is mostly because of the jokes – and there are a lot of them that get thrown around on my social media feeds. But it is pretty funny. (Well, it’s probably not funny to the people who worked hard on it. Or maybe it is. I have no idea.) What makes this funny is, of course, that publicity photo mapping out this whole proposed universe of movies that lasted a grand total of one film. There they all are! Getting ready for their adventures!
And then Tom Cruise’s vehicle, The Mummy, flopped and that was that. (That press tour was pretty hilarious to watch. In almost every answer, Cruise would somehow shift the focus to the fact he was returning as Maverick in a new Top Gun movie; a movie that wasn’t going to come out for three more years.) And as far as I can tell there was never even an official press release about the dissolution of the Dark Universe. It’s like a married couple just one day never speaking to each other again and never bothering with an actual divorce. It’s almost as if everyone just pretended it never existed, which, yes, adds to the comedy of the whole operation. (I always imagine someone at Universal asking, “So, who is going to write the press release about no more Dark Universe movies?” And someone responding, “What if we just didn’t?”)
The proposed Johnny Depp The Invisible Man movie was my favorite to think about because it just seemed like such a recipe for disaster. How many jokes would Depp make about “being in character” by not showing up on a particular day, “I’m invisible, you see.”
Instead, with no more Dark Universe (RIP, 2017-2017), but still wanting to do something with the monster property, Universal’s game plan seems to now be, “If we can’t do a shared universe, let’s just make interesting stories instead.” And Leigh Whannell’s version of The Invisible Man is a smart take on a story that seems next to impossible to tell in an interesting way, but here it somehow is.
The most remarkable thing about The Invisible Man is that a lot of it seems “real.” Okay, no, not the hi-tech suit that makes Adrian Griffin invisible. But pretty much every word that comes from Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia seems real. It sounds like stories we’ve all heard before about abusive relationships. And, unfortunately, what’s she’s told in response sounds all too familiar, too. Cecilia knows what’s happening. She knows she’s being stalked. But everyone tells her she’s the crazy one. That it’s all in her head. That nothing bad is going to happen, as more and more bad things happen.
What makes The Invisible Man interesting is that the “invisible man” himself is almost inconsequential to this story. Not Adrian, per se – in the film, Adrian is a man who fakes his own death so that he could use an invisible suit to stalk his former lover – but the fact he has a suit that makes him invisible. The trick the film uses is that many men have instilled the same fear, abuse, and paranoia into women without the use of any kind of invisible suit. It’s such a movie about a woman being gaslighted it doesn’t even try to play cute with that notion – you know, make it vague enough until a film scholar of some sort points it out. The Invisible Man just own the fact that this is literally what the whole movie is about and is better off for it. And making Cecilia the main character is a smart move.
Another smart movie is avoiding any kind of creepy, gross connotations that seem to come with movies about men who are invisible or have some sort of supernatural power that allows them just do anything they want to a woman – or, at least, that was the direction a lot of movies like used to go. Thankfully, here, instead, Adrian’s terror relies more on things like framing Cecilia for crimes and just generally making her feel like she’s the crazy one.
I’ve kind of given up on my stance against jump scares – and this has a few that feel needless, because the story is so good on its own – but at the same time I understand that people like them and if it gets more people to see a well-thought-out horror concept, then so be it. (Being a Blumhouse production, of course this movie will have jump scares. At the same time, it’s hard to argue with their success.)
But the backbone of The Invisible Man is its story. And it’s a story that seems real and modern and necessary, which is something I never thought I’d write about a movie called The Invisible Man. And now we can only hope that the next round of monster movies are as clever and “in the moment” as much as this one is.
The Dark Universe failed, (again, RIP, 2017-2017) but in its wake we all got something much more interesting.
‘The Invisible Man’ opens in theaters on February 28th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.