On June 9th, Tom Cruise-starring reboot The Mummy will officially launch Universal’s brand spankin’ new monster movie universe, heavily inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been dominating the box office for many years now. The idea is to reboot the studio’s iconic monster movies as star-studded, action-heavy blockbusters that will (hopefully) rake in a ton of dough, and plans are already in motion for new takes on Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Van Helsing, The Invisible Man, and the Wolf Man.
Of course, the latter film was already remade just seven years ago. And if you’re asking me, it was everything that Universal’s rebooted monster movies should have been.
The Wolfman 2010, well, it was an honest to goodness horror movie. Starring a well-cast Benicio del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, the remake managed to embody the essence of Universal horror; there’s a classic feel to the Joe Johnston-directed film, as it’s character/story-driven and loaded with the sort of rich gothic atmosphere that Universal’s genre-defining output was known for. It celebrated the studio’s legacy and paid loving tribute to the 1941 film – looking back, the period-set monster movie was everything that Universal seems to be shying away from here in 2017.
The other great thing about Wolfman 2010? It pulled zero punches in the violence department, earning its R-rating with an impressive array of on-screen brutality that spilled the red stuff all over the screen – at one point, the titular monster uses his razor-sharp claws to literally behead a man with one clean swipe. It’s a phenomenally gory film, and it’s also home to some terrific practical effects work from the master himself, Rick Baker. Some of Baker’s work was infamously replaced with CGI in the editing room, but Baker’s design for the Del Toro Wolfman is a real delight to see on screen. And sue me, but I don’t at all mind the CGI-aided transformation scene, which is very effective. It’s painful to watch, as any good werewolf transformation should be.
Tragic, brutal, and bleak, Wolfman 2010 stands out as maybe the only Universal reboot in the last couple decades that actually wasn’t afraid to be a horror movie – and that’s why I loved it back in 2010 and appreciate it even more here in 2017. Films like 1999’s The Mummy, Van Helsing, and the more recent Dracula Untold are full-on action movies, the latter paving the way for the monsters-as-superheroes sensibility that looks to be the path Universal is now heading down. Based on what we’ve seen of this year’s The Mummy, the universe-starter has a whole lot more in common with the Brendan Fraser franchise than it does anything from Universal’s distant past.
So what happened? Why did Universal ultimately decide to reboot their monster movies as pseudo-superhero flicks? Surely they were inspired by Marvel’s success, but it’s also pretty fair to point to Wolfman 2010 as being the reason why Universal backed away from the horror genre. The R-rated, old fashioned monster movie didn’t even make back its $150 million budget during its worldwide theatrical run, which sent a clear message to the suits in charge: audiences, they determined from those numbers, are no longer interested in the classic monster movies that helped put Universal on the map.
Sadly, one can’t even blame Universal for making that judgment call. Had Wolfman performed better at the box office back in 2010, it likely would’ve become the template that all subsequent Universal reboots followed. And that would’ve been awesome. Alas, audiences just didn’t show up to support that vision, and the response from Universal was swift and necessary: Wolfman was quickly wiped clean from their slate, and PG-13 action movies (set in the present day and likely loaded with superhero-level CGI) became the new vision for the rebooted MonsterVerse.
But we’ll always have Wolfman 2010 as an example of what could have been. It was a damn fine MONSTER MOVIE, and it’s worth a revisit in a landscape that has little room for such cinema.
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