'The Mummy' Misfire Shouldn't Doom a Cinematic Universe

Sometimes you have  'Batman v. Superman' or 'Suicide Squad' before getting a 'Wonder Woman.'
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The reaction to last month's unveiling of Universal's Dark Universe plans was underwhelming, to say the least — and now poor reviews for The Mummy are lending fuel to the fire that perhaps a shared universe of monsters isn't such a great idea.

That line of thinking is understandable. Hollywood has caught shared universe fever, with everything from Transformers to King Kong and Godzilla getting their own.  But even after a misfire like The Mummy, Dark Universe still has serious potential to not only be good, but great.

To understand why, first you have to look back to the origins of the universe.

In 1923, with Wallace Worsley's silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the original Universal Monsters universe was born. The film was utterly revolutionary. Reports are that it cost upwards of $1 million, a budget unheard of at the time. That was followed in 1925 by one of the most iconic films of the silent era, The Phantom of the Opera, which featured a shocking reveal of the Phantom's face — without his mask —  an image that instantly became engrained in cinema history. (See below.)

Following the success of The Phantom of the Opera, Universal was off to the races. By the 1930s, Universal was pumping out several of these films a year. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man were all massive successes. Each of these characters had multiple sequels, spinoffs and crossover films. The demand was rampant, and Universal's vision was seemingly boundless. The cinematic universe thrived for four decades before finally puttering out and ending in 1960. Universal had a grand vision not seen again until the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Mummy, admittedly, isn't a great start to the new universe. It came in with a dismal No. 2 showing at the domestic box office behind Wonder Woman, but it's got big international appeal.

So far, the only other film dated in the universe is 2019's Bride of Frankenstein, directed by Beauty and the Beast's Bill Condon. The Bride hasn't yet been cast, but A-listers are attached to other characters in the universe, with Javier Bardem cast as Frankenstein, Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man and Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (as seen in The Mummy).

Mummy director Alex Kurtzman has said other possibilities include Dracula, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame and a Frankenstein stand-alone. Creature From the Black Lagoon is a particularly intriguing possibility, as the original Creature was a groundbreaking horror monster series, and it hasn't been revisited in its own film since 1956. 

With Angelina Jolie being eyed for The Bride of Frankenstein, this is Hollywood's most ambitious cinematic universe in terms of star power. Part of the appeal of any cinematic universe is seeing your favorite character weaving in and out of various stories year after year in a serialized way — but in this case, another added layer of that appeal is getting to see Cruise share the screen with Jolie or Bardem get into a fight with Crowe.

One of the biggest gambles in the series so far may just be the casting of Depp. Once a massive box-office draw, Depp has had an string of flops that has damaged his perception in Hollywood, while headlines from his personal life have damaged his standing with the public. Even so, it's possible the role could offer a form of creative redemption, if not personal redemption. Invisible Man would likely depart from his recent eccentric roles requiring heavy makeup that audiences have gotten bored with. The character of the Invisible Man has often been portrayed as sympathetic and one that strives for human connection, and his troubles are confounded after he becomes invisible. Critics have complained Depp no longer plays real humans, just cartoon characters brought to life. In a strange way, this could be his most human role in years.

Universal Studios is playing it differently than the DC Extended Universe by holding off some of its most popular characters, such as Dracula, for a later time. They're smartly not rushing it, as sometimes you have to go through a few movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad before you get your Wonder Woman.

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