Yesterday, Universal Studios officially released some information regarding their new shared Monster Universe, which will kick off with The Mummy in a couple of weeks. It has an official name, The Dark Universe, and a few snippets of cast and crew for upcoming movies were announced. One new addition to the universe was an inspired bit of casting, the one announced director even better. The other one was Johnny Depp.
We all know by now what’s happening with The Mummy: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella as the mummy, Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, batshit crazy trailers, and a whole mess of Tom Cruise running and shouting. I have my reservations, but I’ve at least come around to the fact that it should be fun.
Then, this announcement yesterday let us know that Javier Bardem has been cast as Frankenstein’s Monster and the next film in The Dark Universe, Bride of Frankenstein, will be directed by Bill Condon – which is absolute perfection since Condon directed the James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters. But Universal also had some bad news to give us, that the personification of Steven Tyler’s microphone stand, the “wacky pirate” himself, Johnny Depp, would play The Invisible Man in what will likely be the third entry into The Dark Universe.
Having Johnny Depp anywhere near this franchise is a garbage move from Universal. It makes almost no sense these days, and it’s flat, uninspired, lazy casting. Because we no longer have 1990s Depp, or even early 2000s Depp, when his idiosyncrasies were endearing, his craft intriguing, and even his work in between Tim Burton films was worth seeing. Gone is the quirky charmer with the tattoos and the clove cigarettes and wisps of jet black hair we all loved. Instead we have a puffy, necklace-obsessed, fedora-sporting egomaniac who’s allegedly inching ever closer to bankruptcy thanks to his penchant for maintaining islands and buying expensive wine. Plus, he appears to be an insufferable diva these days.
Reports this month surfaced regarding Depp’s issues on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 11 or whatever we’re on now. Depp would alienate his cast and crew, mail in his performance, show up late and drunk, and be just an overall pain in the ass during filming. Maybe these are rumors, but nobody from Depp’s camp has bothered to rebut the claims.
Depp certainly appears to be battling the bottle and a dozen or so inner demons, and who really knows the truth behind that whole domestic issue between he and Amber Heard. If that wasn’t bad enough, these reports come on the heels of an incredible run of mediocrity over the last decade, a stunning mixture of poor critical reception and box office failure: Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, Mortdecai, Black Mass (don’t even try to tell me this was good), Alice Through the Looking Glass… these are merely highlights of a wasteland of terrible films from an actor who doesn’t seem to care about the work he’s doing anymore.
Yet here he is, without any box office clout, or admirable work ethic, or any discernible ability to do anything aside from playing the super wacky eccentric with the accessories, cast as The Invisible Man. The Universal Monsters were for me, like so many of us out there, singular moments in my evolution as a movie lover. I remember my grandmother showing me Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and, yes, The Invisible Man, when I was 9, 10, 11… the mythology of these characters is woven into the tapestry of my cinephile DNA. Having this new universe clearly go in the direction of action/adventure is one thing, but The Mummy at least has the action/adventure GOAT in Tom Cruise; and it has Russell Crowe. And Frankenstein has Javier Bardem. The Invisible Man, an incredible story about a mad scientist who turns himself invisible and cannot handle the psychological windfall of this breakthrough, has a lazy diva who’s spent more money on necklaces than I’ve made in my lifetime.
What a perfect place for Universal to add some diversity to their Dark Universe. What a squandered opportunity. Having an African-American actor, someone like Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya, would be fresh and exciting – and inclusionary. Or, leaning older, what about Don Cheadle? Hell, imagine what Samuel L. Jackson could do with such an inventive role? If they didn’t want to go that route, why not call Oscar Isaac? He would be great. You know who else would be great in The Invisible Man? Literally anyone but Johnny Depp. Universal has shown zero creativity with this casting.
But here we are, with a rotting apple at the bottom of Hollywood’s fruit bowl, an actor whose bit just about everyone has grown weary of, anchoring what should be a major tentpole franchise picture. Again. And studios can’t figure out why people are getting tired of multiplexes and actual good movies are relocating to place like Netflix or HBO at alarming rates. This was just another missed opportunity from a shared universe who clearly spends a fraction of their time and brain power on casting as they do marketing and CGI.
At least this time we shouldn’t have to see much of Johnny Depp. Just his stupid hat, disembodied, floating above a dozen necklaces and scarves.