It seems that every movie studio is taking a stab at their own shared universe, which is no surprise considering how successful the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become. Not too long ago, Universal Pictures attempted to kick off their own with the Dark Universe which would have consisted of films based on the classic monster movies like Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein and more. However, they only released one film, The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and ditched any plans they had for the future of the Dark Universe.
For a planned cinematic universe to fail after just one film, something must have been impressively wrong. Let’s dive into what their plans were and how they all came crumbling down so quickly.
First, it’s worth noting that the classic Universal monster films were actually the original cinematic universe. That’s right, before the Avengers assembled and Jay and Silent Bob struck back, iconic monsters fought against each other. After we were introduced to the monsters, movies like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman solidified the series as a shared canon. It only makes sense for this franchise to be rebooted as a Marvel-esque cinematic universe with the movies connecting more than ever and the effects modernized. That’s something that should easily be box office gold. However, early missteps prevented that from happening.
They had a genuinely great lineup of actors to star in the films, like Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, and Russell Crowe. They have a library of the most well-known monsters in fiction to work with. It definitely makes one wonder how this rebooted franchise could be such a colossal failure.
For starters, they started this new movie universe with The Mummy. The 1999 Brendan Fraser film with the same title is technically a remake of the 1932 classic, but it’s what typically comes to mind when discussing a movie called The Mummy. 1999’s The Mummy was a huge commercial success and spawned a memorable action/adventure franchise. We live in a world where a movie from decades ago, like Star Wars, can receive a new sequel and have it be critically and commercially successful. It’s safe to say that without knowing about the Dark Universe, people would assume that a new Mummy movie would be related to the Brendan Fraser series and be disappointed otherwise. Plus, out of any of the Universal monsters, not many people would be excited to see the Mummy on the big screen before the likes of Count Dracula or the Wolfman. Couldn’t they have started with any of the more exciting ones to build up hype for the franchise?
Another major downfall was that there was way more focus put on the fact that The Mummy was the start of a cinematic universe rather than creating a good story and standalone movie. The story was written with the idea they were getting countless sequels and spin-offs. The movie’s plot gets interrupted by moments that only exist to set things up for later, like Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde to attack the protagonist. It has nothing to do with the Mummy or figuring out how to stop her. It just feels like a tease for Dr. Jekyll’s appearance in later films or a standalone movie of his own. Marvel is able to pull off teases for future films because they built groundwork with solo movies for their characters. Iron Man felt like a story about Iron Man, and the only tease is after the credits so as to not interrupt the story. The Mummy has their post credits teases smack-dab in the middle of the movie, causing it all to feel like a soulless advertisement for what’s to come.
The Mummy also wasn’t a very good movie in general. The characters were bland, the plot was all over the place, some of the effects were hard to look at, and it doesn’t feel like any of the events are important. It also blatantly rips off other movies, like American Werewolf in London. Trying to launch a cinematic universe with such a bad movie is a nearly impossible task.
Universal has since scrapped just about everything they had planned for the Dark Universe. The idea of a classic monster movie-verse is exciting, and it’s definitely a bummer that something with so much potential didn’t quite take off.
They did use another of their properties very well with the outstandingly great The Invisible Man in 2020, but it was not connected to the Dark Universe as originally intended. The Dark Universe version was set to star Johnny Depp, but they decided to toss aside any remnants of that and made a fantastic standalone movie with an interesting story. This is the approach they should have taken; creating well-made, entertaining movies and connecting them together afterward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that 2020’s The Invisible Man will be used for any sort of shared universe. On the bright side, perhaps it means that there will be more good remakes of the classic monster movies.
The Dark Universe was a genuinely fantastic idea that wasn’t well executed whatsoever. Hopefully another attempt is made down the road so we can see Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and more face off in a modern blockbuster.