The Dark Universe: What Could Have Been
“The Mummy wasn’t what I wanted it to be.”
That is Alex Kurtzman, who was chosen to oversee the Dark Universe for Universal Pictures, talking to The Hollywood Reporter about his movie, The Mummy. You know the one, the one with Tom Cruise. He was doing his best Nathan Drake impression, which wasn’t very good, while he got chased around by a sexy mummy when not being used for bait for said mummy by a particularly hammy Russel Crowe, as Dr. Jeckyll. And Mr. Hyde, of course. Jeckyll/Hyde ran a secret organization called Prodigium….hey….wake up! Am I losing you?
Yea, it wasn’t a great movie. Kurtzman seems to care, so I hate being too hard on it, but it was already Universal’s second aborted attempt in 4 years. The first was the Dracula origin story that painted him more like a JRR Tolkein warrior. I must admit if there is any non- Marvel shared cinematic universe I give even the slightest shit about it, it is definitely the potential of the classic Universal monsters to rub elbows. That is now definitely not happening, at least not with Kurtzman as resident Kevin Fiege. Hopefully, you weren’t looking forward to any others. No Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster. No Angelina Jolie as his bride. No Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man. Well, they probably dodged a bullet with that one.
The problem is the Universal Monsters were villains. Empathetic, damaged likable villains. But still villains. Antagonists. Their names might have been in the title, but the plots are always about stopping them. What these stories needed was a hero. Multiple heroes, so that they could carry the sub-franchises that hyped the big crossovers, just like Marvel. That’s essentially what Dracula Untold and The Mummy were trying to do. They were trying to make heroes out of the monsters. Which is too bad, because they already had the best heroes they could have asked for.
Back in 1999, Universal remade The Mummy to great success. It gently side stepped the gothic horror of the originals and leaned heavy on an Indiana Jones-esque pre-war serial adventure. A sandy, gun-slinging treasure hunt, and at the center of it was the perfect trio. Brendan Fraser starred as Rick O’COnnell, the broad shouldered gunhand, driven into sarcastic world-weariness by his time in the French Foreign Legion. He is hired for an expedition into Egypt that includes a brother-sister pair, Evie and Jonathan Carnahan. Rachel Weisz’s Evie is a sheltered but clever librarian with a bad case of wanderlust, and John Hannah’s Jonathan is a rarely sober thief with a preternatural ability to attract MacGuffins. With near perfect chemistry and complimentary strengths, they win the day and leave us wanting more.
And more is what we got. More of the same. The second movie got close to some of the charm of the first, but it was just our trio striking back at Arnold Voosloo’s Imhotep’s second attempt at resurrection and world takeover except with bigger, more computer generated set pieces and progressing the romance of Rick and Evie 7 years into the future, where they are now parents. A third was made (without Weisz) that sent the trio after a Chinese mummy, played by Jet Li. I didn’t see it. I probably never will.
This pitch perfect group of heroes deserved better. So, does Universal’s stable of interesting monsters. What I am saying is Universal has dropped the ball twice starting a shared universe, because these two deserve to be together. The O’Connells should have fought a different Universal monster in each movie. It would take a little tweaking, mainly Evie, who was described as an Egyptologist would have to be a less specific anthropologist to get involved in various other cultures.
The O’Connells join an expedition into the Amazon rainforest to meet an uncontacted tribe of natives who are praying to a pagan river god who turns out to be a real amphibious humanoid, the Creature of the Black Lagoon.
A series of exsanguinations in Transylvania gets the O’Connells attention, and they team up with steampunk forensic specialist, Van Helsing (think Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow), to uncover the dark secrets of local nobleman, Count Dracula.
Back home in London, Jonathan steals a walking stick with a silver wolf head as a handle only to be attacked by the original owner and turned into a Wolf Man, that must be stopped by Rick and Evie.
Pepper in Frankenstein’s Monster and the Invisible Man in roles similar to Oded Fehr’s Ardeth.
When it comes to interconnecting these characters, Universal Studios is overthinking it. They shouldn’t be trying to create multiple franchises that crossover. They should just make ONE franchise. It would be dependent on getting the heroes right, as they did in 1999, but if they do, they’d have a lengthy roster of rogues to pit them against for almost as many movies as Marvel has.
This is the Dark Universe we deserve.