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Universal revives Invisible Man with Leigh Whannell directing

The Dark Universe may be no more, but the future for Universal's classic movie monsters just got a little brighter.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell took to Twitter this morning to announce that he'll be helming a fresh take on The Invisible Man for the studio. The news is the first major announcement signaling a shifting of the gears from a shared universe gambit which failed to take flight not once, but twice. 

Universal's first attempt to kick off the interconnected franchise based on their classic horror properties of the '30s and '40s was 2014's Dracula Untold, which flopped spectacularly and forced a reshuffling of the studio's entire gameplan. The fruits of that reshuffling, the 2017 Tom Cruise starrer The Mummy, similarly failed to rope in new audiences while at the same time frustrating fans of the Brendan Fraser-led film series of the late '90s and '00s. 

A reimagining of The Invisible Man — with Johnny Depp slated to star — had been in the works for some time, along with flicks based on The Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Creature From the Black Lagoon, but the fates of all of those projects have been up in the air since The Mummy's failure. Depp is not expected to be taking part in Whannell's revamped Invisible Man, which will downplay — if not completely ignore — the shared universe element in favor of telling the most compelling standalone story possible, as reported  by Variety.

This new approach was subtly spelled out in a statement from Universal president of production Peter Cramer which accompanied the announcement of Whannell's hiring. "Throughout cinematic history, Universal's classic monsters have been reinvented through the prism of each new filmmaker who brought these characters to life," he said. "We are excited to take a more individualized approach for their return to screen, shepherded by creators who have stories they are passionate to tell with them."

Whannell has had his fingerprints all over the horror genre for over a decade, penning the first three Saw movies and all four flicks in the Insidious series. He moved to the director's chair for Insidious: Chapter 3, and made a splash with fans and critics alike with his sophomore directorial effort, last year's completely bananas sci-fi/horror feature Upgrade.

For The Invisible Man, Whannell will be re-teaming with venerable production house Blumhouse Pictures and superproducer Jason Blum, who shepherded the Insidious flicks to the screen. Blumhouse has been on a winning streak of the type that few imprints not called Marvel Studios have managed to put together in recent memory. In just the last couple years, films which have been released under the banner have included Jordan Peele's monster hit Get Out, the sleeper smash Happy Death Day, M. Night Shyamalan's stellar comeback film Split, the Oscar-nominated Spike Lee joint Black KkKlansman, and the box-office busting reboot/sequel Halloween, to name just a few. Thus far this year, the hits appear likely to keep on coming; Blumhouse opened the year with the Split sequel Glass (currently cleaning up at the box office), and in the next couple months we'll be seeing the sequel Happy Death Day 2U and Us, Peele's supremely creepy-looking follow-up to Get Out.

According to Variety's report, Universal's new approach to developing their legacy characters for a new generation is wide open. With the shared universe concept tabled, the studio is simply searching for filmmakers that represent the best creative fit for each property, with no mandate as to each project's budget, potential MPAA rating, or any kind of unified tone. While previously-attached Dark Universe talent such as Depp, Cruise, Russell Crowe, and Javier Bardem still have the option to appear in the revamped versions of their respective projects, they are under no obligation to do so, and casting choices will ultimately be left to the filmmakers. In the case of The Invisible Man, this appears to mean that Depp is out the door.

It's also reported that Universal is currently fielding a variety of pitches, so while The Invisible Man is the first of these projects to be announced, it doesn't necessarily follow that it will be the first to enter production. Credit goes to the studio for acknowledging what wasn't working (twice) and focusing on a more creative, filmmaker-driven direction; these are properties that deserve to be done justice for modern film audiences, and with today's announcement, they appear to be firmly back on track. We'll be keeping an eye out for future developments.