"Welcome to a new world of Gods and Monsters." That's the tagline for The Mummy, the 2017 Tom Cruise movie which just released its first trailer, and the statement is true in more ways than one. If all goes according to plan, The Mummy will be the first film in a new shared cinematic world filled with Universal Monsters.
Sofia Boutella is The Mummy in The Mummy, out this winter. All Images: Universal Pictures
But how exactly is that going to work? We were one of several outlets to talk to the film's director, Alex Kurtzman, about how this movie will set up a potential franchise, what monster movies mean to him and how this Mummy will be different from all the rest:
The only way to build a universe is to not think in terms of building a universe. You have to make great individual movies, first and foremost, and if you do that, then the audience will follow you.
So that has been the goal in making The Mummy. It's not so much "build a universe", it's "make a great Mummy movie." Now, if in the context of making a great Mummy movie you can plant the seeds for something else? Fantastic. But the only way you can get there is if those seeds can be planted organically and if it can be part of The Mummy story.
Those seeds can briefly be seen in the trailer in the form of Russell Crowe's character, Dr Henry Jekyll, and his organisation, Prodigium. They will be the Nick Fury and SHIELD of this universe, linking everything together.
Kurtzman understands adding Dr Jekyll to The Mummy may seem forced, but he has his reasons:
The minute you say, "It's The Mummy but Dr Jekyll is in it?" You guys are all going to say, "Are you trying to sell me on a shared universe all of a sudden?" It was something we debated for quite some time. There were a couple things we came to understand as we were developing the script. We wanted to understand the context of The Mummy in the larger world. And we wanted to know that monsters existed for millennia. And we knew that as the story evolved there was going to be an organisation that was maybe cataloguing them, following them, collecting them. That would determine the good ones from the bad ones. That was sort of the keeper of that secret history.
That organisation needed a leader, so it was either create a new character or delve into the mythology of Universal's monsters. "It would have to be somebody medical or scientific or some kind of doctor, which then lead us to Henry Jekyll," Kurtzman said.
Pure name recognition wasn't enough to bring the character in, however. Kurtzman wanted a deeper reason, and he found it in Jekyll's mythology. He began to think of Jekyll's internal battle (with the monster Hyde) as a mirror to Tom Cruise's character, who finds himself cursed by the Mummy in the film. At that point, bringing in Jekyll not only worked as part of the story, it helped develop Cruise's character and started to open the door to a larger universe — one that begins with a Mummy very specifically designed to balance expectations and new beginnings.
"In thinking about the design of The Mummy in this movie, there was the question, 'Wouldn't the bandages just fall off her?' And my feeling was 'No one gives a shit! She's gotta wear the bandages!'" Kurtzman said. "If you take the bandages off, she's just a person. So, then it became the fun of 'Where do the bandages come from? What's the story' And I think making her a woman, for me, was the reason to make the story."
Kurtzman explained the film would explore the history of how this lady became the Mummy, which will eventually play a role in the larger universe. He admits, however, he's not quite sure what that universe is yet:
I'm not going to sit here and pretend I can tell you exactly how [the monsters are] all going to come together. We have a lot of ideas, and a lot of things that are very exciting. But to me, the fun of the promise of bringing them together is that they're probably going to fuck each other up pretty badly. It's not going to be a pretty room with those guys in it. And that's a lot more exciting than people who are going to behave nobly and predictably. It just makes it a more interesting experience, and a more interesting prospect.
But how do you get them to work together?" I don't know yet. I can't tell you. But I can tell you that it's not going to be boring. And it's not going to feel familiar. And figuring out a way for those guys to get along, is the challenge. But also, to what end? Why would you bring them together? There has to be some kind of unifying reason if you're going to do that.
And by the way, maybe they don't all come together in one movie. We're not necessarily going to do The Avengers. There might be reasons for this character and that character to come together because the story tells us that's what the story wants. The story is what drives the choice. And if down the line, there's a big reason to bring them together, then great. But I promise we're not starting there.
As for other movies in that will fill the universe, Kurtzman confirmed that Passengers writer Jon Spaihts is working with Arrival writer Eric Heisserer on a Van Helsing film, and that Dracula Untold, the film from 2014, is NOT a part of this universe.
But characters like Frankenstein, Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bride of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man are all potential subjects. And they will all be handled in a very specific way, whatever films may follow.
"What separates a monster movie from a horror movie or a slasher movie is the ability to fear the monster and fear for the monster," Kurtzman said "What we said to Universal was if you really want to be true to what my experience with the Universal Monsters was as a kid, you've got to find a way to do that for the audience."
That was something the company took to heart. Apparently, the company shares a lot of pride and history when it comes to these characters.
"[Universal] was built on the backs of the monsters," Kurtzman said. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first movie Universal ever made. And what I started feeling as I was talking to the people there was there was a tremendous sense of pride that they have in their monster heritage. They call them our monsters."