Why Must Every Film Series Be a Shared Universe?

Before the opening scenes to The Mummy, there is the official logo for the Dark Universe. The format is essentially the black and edgy version of the iconic Universal logo, with giant letters appearing from behind the globe to spell out this new attempt at a Marvel-style franchise for the audience, just in case there were some viewers unaware that the studio was attempting something big here. When I saw the logo for the first time, after Universal released their ensemble photo of the future stars of the franchise, I rolled my eyes. Everything about it felt awkward and uninteresting: Was that really the best title they could think of? Do they honestly think this will entice the masses before the films have even been released? Who is the target audience for this? None of these questions were answered when I actually saw the newest attempt to make this universe happen. Indeed, in the aftermath of The Mummy, a film too boring to even warrant a bad movie night recommendation, it all felt a tad desperate.

Nothing about The Mummy works, bar a couple of good action set pieces most viewers will already have seen in the trailers. It’s a grey slog of a movie, with nothing unique to offer audiences and pacing akin to crawling through treacle. More creative critics than myself have taken the film to task in colourful form for its many failings, but it’s hard to fully convey the depressing pointlessness of the entire affair. The film exists solely to set up several sequels, meaning it is utterly uninterested in being its own thing. No fewer than six writers worked on this shambles and it shows in every scene, as dialogue veers from discarded one-liners from Uncharted to cringe-inducing declarations of vague threat. Nobody can make any of it sound believable, and half the cast don’t even seem to be trying (bless Russell Crowe, who has moved beyond human notions of caring and delivers a «waiting for the cheque to cash» performance as Jekyll and Hyde that veers between bored snooker commentator and roid rage impersonator of Phil Daniels from the Blur song, Parklife). Not even Tom Cruise, one of the most iconic leading men of the past two decades, wants to be here, and that man was in Rock of Ages. After leaving the cinema, yearning for the delights of King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, I couldn’t help but ask how this whole thing got made.

I could probably write «it got made because money» and just leave this here, but there’s more to this disheartening shared universe trend than mere profit. It’s not just Universal either: The ubiquitous Marvel Studios changed the game and now everyone scrambles in their footsteps to strike lightning twice, from Warner Bros. and their misguided establishing of the DCU, to the ever-growing Star Wars franchise, to plans for shared universes including but not limited to Call of Duty, the Hasbro toy world, Valiant Comics, Robin Hood, the Lego animated movies, Universal’s other shared universe including King Kong and Godzilla, and now their Dark Universe.

Studios seem to have a fishbowl memory when it comes to their failures, and no deeper understanding of how success happens beyond the most easily recognised markers of it. The Marvel universe was a massive risk when it was announced, and it took years of work and several films to get to its mammoth state. Those first few movies in the franchise that establish key characters and the foundations of the world weren’t the gargantuan successes the films would become, but they stand on their own two feet as entertaining movies that audiences wanted to see, regardless of the upcoming baggage. Nowadays, there’s real fan fervour for each and every strand of the story, which can be followed from film to film and woven into an expansive narrative, but the earliest films only required the barest hint of that. They were the cherry on top rather than the films’ entire reason for existing.

It’s not the worst idea in the world for Universal to want to capitalise on this trend, and there’s historical precedent for them using their most iconic roster of characters to do so. The original Universal Monster movies often overlapped with one another: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man; House of Dracula, and the Abbott & Costello hijinks, to name but three. These bastions of classic horror cinema that helped Universal dominate the golden age of Hollywood for close to four decades are the most recognisable brand attached to the studio, and they’ve had little to do over the past couple of decades. A few reboots have been attempted, and The Mummy remake starring Brendan Fraser is fondly remembered, but all previous attempts to revive the universe for a new age floundered. Remember Van Helsing and the mega-series it was supposed to kickstart? How about The Wolfman, starring Benicio Del Toro? Then, of course, there’s Dracula Untold, Universal’s original attempt to kick off the Dark Universe, that under-performed so much they’ve just decided to pretend it never happened. Most of these films were greenlit before the prospect of multiple cross-overs and billion dollar box office receipts were the new normal, but even then, there seemed to be little zeal for such stories from audiences.

By today’s standards, the original Universal Monster films can be pretty campy, and it’s hard for some to imagine a time when such stories were fresh and just radical enough to concern the censors. When Tod Browning’s Dracula premiered in the ’30s, there were reports of audience members fainting in shock at screenings. Nowadays, there’s a veritable sea of Draculas, Frankensteins and Mummies, so updates are required, but by adhering to the blockbuster mould of bigger stakes and darker tones, Universal seem determined to strip their characters of all the fun. Fundamentally, the Tom Cruise version of The Mummy, is a movie devoid of fun. It seems allergic to the mere concept of it, and focuses so much on making everything more epic and serious, as if seriousness is the only way a story like this can be legitimised to audiences.

The big money is in these franchises, and it makes sense for any studio to exploit any vaguely recognisable property for all it’s worth. Why make just one movie when you can have 6 or 7 of them all tied together, with the sea of merchandising potential and theme park possibilities that offers? For this Dark Universe, a phrase I still can’t type without wincing, it’s a model that the material is inherently ill-suited to. An action-horror focused Monster Mash franchise that takes itself just seriously enough would probably fare better with audiences, but Universal is so eager to stick to the expected tropes of modern blockbuster film-making that the material can’t help but sink under the pressure. Why must everything be focused on action and explosions when the original story was so effective as a mood-driven thriller? We have so few of those kind of films in the market now, at least from the major studios, and it would be a creative gap for Universal to fill, yet there seems to be no interest in doing so. Why try something new when you can copy what everyone else around you is doing?

Where Universal’s strategy differs from that of other studios is in their investment in the A-List model. The notion of bankable stars who can be guaranteed to bring in the big bucks, regardless of bad reviews or questionable source material, is one that’s losing a lot of steam in the franchise age. Chris Pratt wasn’t the reason Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World made so much money, and even Tom Cruise can’t be entirely relied on to bolster the fortunes of films like Edge of Tomorrow. Signing on to a Marvel movie when you’re Cate Blanchett or Robert Redford probably won’t do much for your own box office potential, but it does offer a nice paycheck and industry goodwill. It seems like every actor of vague repute sooner or later finds their way into a shared universe, and for a long time it seemed that Tom Cruise would be a holdout in the same way someone like Leonardo Dicaprio or even Daniel Day-Lewis are. They don’t need that kind of support, surely? Yet this Dark Universe has gunned hard for major actors with critical and commercial acclaim to sell this experiment to a skeptical market (or at least they’ve done so with the men: Sofia Boutella, for all her wonderful qualities, isn’t on that level). To their credit, they got proper stars for this: Tom Cruise, Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, and that awful Johnny Depp dude. All are playing various classic horror characters, except for Cruise who is too special for such a thing and gets to be the Gary Stu white saviour of The Mummy. Once upon a time, most of these names could make or break a hit. Now, Universal is hoping that power will hold for the next few years.

To the studio’s credit, that strategy is holding water for now. The power of Cruise is keeping The Mummy afloat on the international market, even as reviews range from apathetic to derisive. It’s doubtful that Universal will change their strategy now. There’s too much money riding on this working, even as many audiences roll their eyes at the prospect of future installments (sure, I’ll take a Dark Universe action version of Phantom of the Opera, why not?) Ultimately, this experiment that so many studios are desperate to invest in has a fundamental flaw none of them seem to understand: People may like movies that happen in a shared universe, but that’s not the same as everyone loving the mere concept of shared universe franchises.

Pajiba

Every Single Show-Stopping Moment From the Tony Awards

The Tony Awards went down at Radio City Music Hall in NYC on Sunday night, bringing out some of Broadway’s biggest stars. In addition to some show-stopping performances, there were also quite a few celebrities on hand to present. Anna Kendrick introduced her Pitch Perfect costar, Ben Platt, and the rest of the Dear Evan Hansen cast, while John Legend reunited with La La Land lyricists, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, as he awarded them with best original score. Plus, Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, made a special appearance during the show. See all the best moments below.

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There Really Is a Star From Every State!

Hollywood is like a Miss America pageant: people flock from every state to get a piece of the action. As it turns out, not all stars were born and raised in LA; Jennifer Lawrence, George Clooney, and Johnny Depp are all from Kentucky, while Emma Stone calls Arizona home. Pennsylvania has bred quite a few leading men and Louisiana raised both a romantic-comedy sweetheart and one of TV’s most bloodthirsty vampires. Click through to find out who is from where!

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reddit Asks: What Actors Are In the Same Predicament In Every Movie?

Oh, /r/AskReddit, you have so many strange and confounding questions, so color me surprised that there was a simpler, gentler question that popped onto my screen.

Matt Damon always needs to be rescued. Sean Bean always dies. Who are some other actors that seem to always find themselves in the same predicament movie after movie?CommentToBeDeleted

EarlGreyhairAdam Sandler always gets rejected by a girl at the beginning of the movie for being a loser, and then comes out on top. It happens in: Happy Gilmore Big Daddy Pixels The Wedding Singer

MrMeeeseeksLeo tries to con people — Titanic, Catch Me if You Can, Gangs of New York, The Great Gatsby, The Departed, Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street

Holy shit, I never realized DiCaprio was always a conniving shitbrick in his movies. As Scienlologist points out: Sort of cons himself in Shutter Island.

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TheRealDynamoScotch — I think Tom Hanks has a secret obsession with piss. Forrest Gump — Telling JFK «I have to pee.» Green Mile — Kidney stone limits his ability to pee. Cast Away — Sees a passing ship while peeing at night. Captain Phillips — Escapes while peeing. A League of Their Own — Takes a legendary piss in front of the ladies. Toy Story — «Somebody’s poisoned the water hole!» The Terminal — Has to pee while waiting for a call at a payphone. Apollo 13 — Long talk about peeing in space. Saving Private Ryan — Tells a story about peeing. The Burbs — Asks a neighbor if he can use their bathroom to pee. Road to Perdition — Asks to go to the bathroom in order to escape a killer. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s what I was able to think of off the top of my head.

wingsfan55 — Plus there was that time he was peeing with Tom Selleck. «In the 1998 Oscars, I found myself in the bathroom in a stall, next to Tom Selleck. So I leaned over and I said ‘looks like we’re a couple of peeing Toms.’ His angry silence is something I’ll never forget.»- Tom Hanks.

J_DellamanoBrad Pitt always eats.

jraygun13Steve Buscemi gets killed in a lot of movies. I believe the Coen Brothers said that their goal was to have him become smaller and smaller with each death. He was shot in the face in Miller’s Crossing, chopped up in a wood chipper in Fargo, and cremated in The Big Lebowski. Here’s a video of a lot of his movie deaths, and you can turn on closed captioning to see the movie and cause of death

angelproofRachel McAdams always finds herself marrying time traveller guys. It’s uncanny. Time Traveller’s Wife Midnight in Paris About Time

What do you have for me? What are your contributions?

Pajiba

Every Bathroom Is A Private Bathroom To Jennifer Lopez

2017 NBC Upfronts - Arrivals

I find the best way to humanize famous people is to remember that famous people sit on a toilet and pee and poo like the rest of us. There’s no getting around it. The only difference is, when they use a public bathroom they sometimes do it in a fancier way than we do. For example, Jennifer Lopez doesn’t wait in a long line for the bathroom with her kegel muscles clenched with more pressure than a hydraulic press.

According to Page Six, JLo had to use the bathroom at the Robin Hood Foundation Benefit in NYC on Monday. A witness claims four security guards closed it down so  JLo could have complete privacy. There was a huge lineup outside the ladies’ room, which caused everyone to speculate who was inside. They finally figured out it was JLo when they saw her possible future husband A-Rod loitering off to the side checking his phone.

Once JLo strolled out, security opened the bathroom to the general public again. JLo and A-Rod’s security wasn’t just for the bathroom; a source claims they were surrounded by security all evening to prevent them from getting mobbed by people.

Another source, commenting on the private bathroom situation, added: “It’s really awkward when someone asks for a selfie when you walk out of a toilet stall.” That’s true, but it’s still less awkward than realizing there’s no toilet paper mid-piss and yelling out to your security team to hook you up with some Charmin. That’s the benefit to having someone on the other side of the stall in the ladies’ room; you just put your hand under the stall whisper “Hi…uh…” and your stall sister will come through.

Pic: Wenn.com

Dlisted

Salma Hayek Says Every Woman Has A Maternal Instinct

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Salma Hayek and her mom Diana Jiménez are on the cover of this week’s HOLA because this Sunday is Mother’s Day and also because Salma’s got a movie to push (How to Be a Latin Lover). I know you’re supposed to get your mother a present on Mother’s Day, but Salma should really ask her mother if she’d be willing to gift her with a quick lesson in serving face. But moving on to what Salma said inside the magazine.

While talking about how much Salma loves being a mother to her 9-year-old daughter Valentina, she got into the topic of maternal instinct. According to Salma, every woman’s got it, and it’s it important to use it. But what if you don’t have a child of your own to feed and clothe and wipe their boogery nose? Salma has options for you and one of them starts at a greenhouse.

“Every woman has a maternal instinct inside and I think that it’s important that all humans try to have that experience and apply that maternal instinct to some living creature. You don’t have to have children, but be responsible and take care of animals or a plant. Take care of another being.

Feeling responsible helps you develop as a human being. It doesn’t have to be a sacrifice but an intention that you give of yourself, and contribute to another living being’s life. That’s very rewarding. You learn a lot about yourself when you do something for someone else.”

I don’t want to poke holes in Salma’s theory, but I don’t know if what she’s talking about is a maternal instinct. Taking care of someone or trying to make someone’s life better just means you’re not an asshole. And scooping your dog’s turds from the sidewalk just means you don’t want your neighbors to give you the death-stare. Plants I get; who doesn’t love to watch a plant grow? But they’re the worst kind of substitute children. I water and prune and rotate all year long, and what do my seven plants get me for Mother’s Day? Jack shit, Salma! Not even a card. Rude.

Pic: John Russo/HOLA

Dlisted

Take a Drink Every Time Kevin Bacon Says the Word «D*ck» in This Interview

Kevin Bacon stars in the new Amazon series I Love Dick, and has been making the rounds to promote the show before its May 12 debut. On Tuesday, the actor stopped by Today to chat with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb about the project, in which he plays a renowned Texas artist and was required to show full-frontal nudity. During his interview, Kevin went over the f*cking top when talking about the show and probably said the word «d*ck» no less than 15 times during the five-minute video. If this was a drinking game, you’d be sh*tfaced.

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‘Every Time I Sweat, It Makes Me Think of My Grandparents, Sweating’: NOLA Protesters Clash Over Confederate Monuments

NEW ORLEANS—Pastor Marie Ortiz told me she had a dream, the day before last, in which the Holy Spirit commanded her to go to Lee Circle. So she went, alone, and anointed the steps. Then she looked up at the 133-year statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee, bronze arms crossed over the center of New Orleans,…

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