Universal made a bold pitch with the launch of their Universal Monsters Dark Universe franchise, so they are probably a little underwhelmed by the lukewarm response to their first instalment, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. While we here at Forces of Geek rather enjoyed the movie, the drop-off in second weekend takings should be of some concern to the studio. While the film looks likely to make a small profit once international views are considered, and much of the poor takings can be explained by the success of Wonder Woman, there is no doubt that Universal will analyze what went wrong and what went right with The Mummy and try to do better with the subsequent releases in their Dark Universe. It is telling that the next installment – Bride of Frankenstein – is still in pre-production, so it seems that Universal were always waiting to see what would happen with The Mummy first before continuing with the rest of the franchise.
So, what can Universal do to get the Dark Universe back on track? Here are some suggestions.
One problem with The Mummy might have been the casting of Tom Cruise in the all-action hero role. While Tom has been playing such roles for over three decades, audiences know by now that he is at his best when playing an anti-hero or outright villain, for example in Magnolia, Collateral or even Tropic Thunder. Seeing Tom fly planes and drive ambulances through forests doesn’t take advantage of the best of his acting talents, and all feels a little too much like a rerun of Mission: Impossible anyway.
That said, the performances of Russell Crowe as Dr Jekyll and Sofia Boutella as Princess Ahmanet are very watchable and they certainly seemed to resonate with the audience. Indeed, perhaps this should be the core lesson of The Mummy for Universal, and how they should approach the rest of the Monsters in their Dark Universe. How about focusing the plot around the Monsters themselves instead of around big budget actors like Cruise? After all, the Monsters are what really interests us about the Universe, not the protagonists who fight them.
With Bride of Frankenstein penciled in for 2019 and The Invisible Man planned for the early 2020’s, we can see a lot of scope for making interesting storylines which rely less on fast-paced action and CGI, and more on character examination, particularly if they can get the right actors for the Monster roles.
Bride of Frankenstein does have Javier Bardem signed up (presumably as Frankenstein’s Monster), and if he can bring the same kind of intensity which he did to No Country for Old Men, then we can see the film being an enthralling one.
In terms of plot, how about a backstory of Victor Frankenstein creating a prototype Monster on behalf of Prodigium some years before, and now his Creation has come back to rescue the Mark 2, played by Scarlett Johansson or (as is rumoured) Angelina Jolie? We would watch that for sure.
Similarly, Johnny Depp looks like the ideal actor to bring the necessary offbeat touch to his role as the Invisible Man.
Previous takes on this character have all focused on him as the anti-hero scientist whose magical potion has the side effect of insanity, which seems perfect for Depp, who could just reprise his performance as Willy Wonka, with some added darkness.
The Invisible Man character has always fascinated audiences, possibly because most of us have wondered at some point what it would be like to be invisible for a day.
The character’s enduring popularity has even led to Universal licensing its own themed slot game, which is one of the most popular titles played at online casinos featuring cinematic slot games. When we consider the possibilities that Johnny Depp can bring to the role and our enduring fascination with the character, then The Invisible Man can certainly be a hit, assuming we don’t spend 75% of the movie watching a square-jawed hero trying to defeat him.
There is still plenty of time for Universal to get their Dark Universe back on track, and with the right plot and the right character development, subsequent films can win over the critics and audiences.
One thing is for sure, we want to see a return of Dr Jekyll and his Mr Hyde alter-ego, and learn more about what he stores in those specimen jars in his laboratory.