With less than three weeks to go before the release of The Mummy, Tom Cruise’s first step into Brendan Fraser’s lane, Universal made an announcement many assumed was coming. The Mummy will be the cornerstone of a Marvel-style series called the “Dark Universe,” which will also include even more Big Name Celebrity Actors.
Famous faces will play fan-favorite monsters. Javier Bardem will play Frankenstein’s Monster, Russell Crowe taking on Dr. Jekyll and Johnny Depp playing himself; no, wait, he’ll play the Invisible Man, apparently. As critics have noted, developing Universal movie monsters into a shared universe would make a lot more sense if the original movies weren’t nearly a century old.
Dark Universe will be the seventh shared cinematic universe in theaters when it arrives next month. The other six are Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars galaxy; Warner’s DC Extended Universe; Fox’s X-Men universe; Legendary’s Monsterverse; and Paramount’s shared universe of Hasbro properties including Transformers and G.I. Joe. The Dark Universe will be lonely in that it’ll be one based almost entirely on the ludicrousness of the spectacle of its core cast, rather than the concepts of the franchise.
We can’t deny it will be fascinating to see Depp, Bardem and Crowe try to out-act each other in period make-up. But who cares about the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster going head-to-head? The Mummy isn’t being sold as a mummy movie but as Mission: Impossible — But With The Enchantress From Suicide Squad, Probably. While Universal’s monster movies might be classic, they’re also far from the consciousness of the mainstream audience. The only reason for this universe to exist is that Universal felt left out. So now, monsters.
Dark Universe seems like a series of random ideas instead of a coherent strategy. Resurrecting a group of Scooby-Doo villains as central characters, hiring the one man even Harry Potter fans didn’t want to star in their movie as one of the big names and naming the entire shared universe after an abandoned working title for a Warner Bros. superhero project are seemingly less indicative of vision and more of despertion. Everything about Dark Universe so far seems ill-conceived but at least they’ve not gone and ripped off Legendary’s Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island conceit of linking the movies together via a mysterious organization dedicated to discover the truth behind the monsters. Oh, wait, never mind. (Russell Crowe will be playing the Nick Fury role this time around.)
Listen, Universal: there’s still a way to save Dark Universe before it’s too late. You guys also distribute the Fast and Furious movies, right? Just get all the classic monsters into souped-up rides and let Dwayne Johnson guest-star as Luke Hobbs a few times. Instant success awaits.