With all the success Marvel has had with its MCU it is only a matter of time before other studios look at their properties and think, why not us? And you would be crazy not to look at what Marvel has done, and done well might I add, for so many years without too many hiccups that would be a detriment to the universe as a whole. Marvels direct competitor, DC, is in the process of trying to compete but they cannot get down the formula that Marvel has perfected for themselves. Outside the realm of comic books, others are trying their hand at Universes of their own to maximize the appeal and value of their franchises. Which brings us to Universals attempt at a Universe, the Dark Universe.
Universal back in the early days of cinema were innovators bringing interesting characters to the silver screen the likes the world had never seen. They gave us the standard of what we depict when we think “classic movie monster” such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Versions of them are still around to this day and are pretty much the reason we have the horror genre in the first place. The original Universal monster movies are classics and should be on every movie lovers bucket list. These films thrived on their strong acting and beautiful gothic set pieces that set the tone for each movie in a way that was a signature for Universal monster movies. After several decades of dominance the beloved monsters began to fade away with only blips here and there of less than desirable representations of the properties other than 1999’s The Mummy and its follow up in 2001, The Mummy Returns.
Now I bring up the Mummy because last year Universal decided to relaunch their Dark Universe with The Mummy. Yes, I said relaunch because the original launching title for the Dark Universe was Dracula Untold which bombed at the domestic box office and currently holds the status of Rotten on Rottentomatoes.com with a score of 25% critics score with 124 reviews. It did reasonably well in the foreign box office with 161million which helped make back its 70 million budget, but with the less than stellar performance in the states, it looks like the rest of Dracula’s story will remain untold. So after the stall to bring the Dark Universe to the forefront of the great movie universe status, Universal gave it another go with The Mummy in 2017 starring Tom Cruise. With the failures that Dracula Untold still leaving a bad taste in Universals mouth, they decided to create the whole universe in one shot. Coming in at a whopping 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Mummy 2017 was the complete opposite thing that Universal wanted to happen. This put Tom Cruise, a great actor, in one of the most forgettable roles that he has ever had. The misuse of the star power plus trying to make a Mummy movie with none of the charm of the 1999 Mummy all while trying to make an Avengers-style movie was a mistake that I do not think this version of the Dark Universe can ever recover. One scene, in particular, that sums up what went wrong is when Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) enters the laboratory of Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), and the camera’s view takes you on a tour of what’s around, and we see a Vampire skull and an arm that appears to be from the creature from the black lagoon. This plus the existence of Dr. Jekyll in a Mummy movie is lazy exposition that shoves your face into the universe too quickly and takes away from what should be focusing on making a solid stand alone. The success that Marvel currently has is most likely attributed to strong stand-alone movies like Iron Man that gave you time to get to know the characters. Universal went the route of an accelerated formula that DC took to get to Justice League, and you can see how that is working out.
Currently, the Dark Universe still exists with but it is unclear for how long or if it will have any relation to 2017’s The Mummy. The last information to come from Universal was May 22, 2017 with their announcement of the Dark Universe. Movies that were slated for the next couple years to join the universe such as Bride of Frankenstein look to be on indefinite hold until Universal decides the next step. I do hope Universal can breathe new life into the classic monsters, but maybe a universe is not the answers, maybe going back to the roots of what made these films great with tone, acting and beautiful set design is the answer. I would not be opposed to seeing these films made on a smaller scale that can set the correct mood. If they do try the Universe path again with another reboot, I hope they learn from their mistakes. The Avengers worked for years to build the empire they have today and imitation is the highest form of flattery, but everyone has to learn to walk before they run.