Universal’s Dark Universe franchise is all but dead. Its flagship film, The Mummy underperformed both critically and financially, the lead architects behind the project (Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan) have moved on to other things, and the only film from its first wave which remains in some form of production is Bride of Frankenstein, albeit with its planned release date retracted.
This was to be expected. When even Disney/Marvel’s MCU, the wildly successful experiment which kicked off our cultural obsession with connectivity, is starting to show signs of wear and tear, it has become a tall order to launch anything as massive in its wake. And while I’ll happily admit that the Dark Universe has always been a terrible idea through and through, I’m still mourning its passing in a big way.
You see, I LOVED The Mummy. No, not because it was a good movie, but because it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. My complete lack of stakes in a shared Universal Monsters universe (oof) left me with only the lowest of expectations. I love the classics as much as the next guy, but I’ve seen where those old franchises ended up. Frankenstein met the Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. found himself playing Dracula, The Monster, and The Mummy at points. Even those lovable goofs Abbott and Costello showed up. The big entries remain timeless, but to hold on to these characters as if they are completely unsullied is ridiculous. So yeah, I got a kick out of The Mummy being reimagined as a middling Tom Cruise actioner. I was excited to fantasize about what other terrible creative decisions this pointless universe would deeply commit itself to.
Alas, it will never come to pass. At least not in this iteration. But do we really think that Universal will put its most iconic properties out to pasture just like that? Of course not! There will be some re-tooling, rethinking, and rebuilding, after which we will probably get another bizarre experiment doomed to piss everyone off but me. So in anticipation of whatever comes next, I’d like to offer a few suggestions.
1. Don’t connect the movies. It’s okay to let each entry fall under the umbrella of the Dark Universe without having the movies connect in a literal sense. Sure, it could be fun to throw passing references that some of these stories take place in the same world, but there’s no reason to have the characters from each flick intermingling. It’s pointless fan service that nobody wants and it gets in the way of having a successful narrative in each film’s vaccum.
2. Retain Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Even if you must take pains to separate it entirely from the version of the charcter(s) which appeared in The Mummy, keep the actor. It’s always a joy when Crowe is having fun, and he really seemed to be digging deep on this one. I’m dying to see what he’d do if given an entire movie to play a character with such potential for scene-chewing. I was also looking forward to using “Dr. Russell and Mr. Crowe” in what was sure to be hundreds of articles about the Dark Universe, and I’d hate for that to stop here.
3. Make them horror movies. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel on any one property. Just give em a modern shine and let it rip. There are so many filmmakers who would line up just to do this. In researching this piece I discovered to original trailer for the Dark Universe, and it appears to advertise exactly that: HORROR MOVIES. Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I could give Universal is to deliver on the promise of this trailer:
4. If all else fails, make Harold and Kumar Meet Frankenstein. Do it. You won’t. But seriously, we need to stop acting like these monsters are sacred. There’s no reason why this couldn’t occur (except copyrights — WB owns Harold and Kumar).
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.