Cinematic universes don't just belong to comic book properties anymore. Other franchises are getting in on the action, from Transformers aiming to expand its world populated with robots in disguise to Warner Bros' MonsterVerse pitting beasts like Godzilla and King Kong against each other. Universal also has some skin in the game with its lineup of classic Hollywood monsters. Officially titled the Dark Universe, this franchise kicks off next month with The Mummy, and while it remains to be seen how that movie will perform in theaters, Universal is already taking a wise approach with building this share world: for right now, it's not leading to a giant conflict/team-up movie.
Just like Iron Man did with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Man of Steel did with the DC Extended Universe, The Mummy is planting the seeds that will grow into the wider Dark Universe. The movie is primarily following Tom Cruise's Nick Morton and Annabelle Wallis' Jenny Halsey battling Princess Ahmanet, a.k.a. the main antagonist, but it's also introducing the organization Prodigium. Led by Russell Crowe's Dr. Henry Jekyll (who has his own inner darkness), Prodigium studies, tracks and kills any monsters that threaten mankind.
It's been confirmed that Prodigium will serve as the main connective thread between these movies, similar to the role Monarch fills in the MonsterVerse. But unlike the MonsterVerse, which has Godzilla vs. Kong coming in 2020, the Dark Universe doesn't plan on bringing all its main monsters together in one movie, Avengers-style. Such a gathering may work for superheroes or for a clash between titanic forces of nature, but just because certain characters exist in the same world doesn't mean that there's an obligation for them to be crammed into a two-hour event.
A shared universe is appealing because of the connections its stories share, whether it's in movies, television or comics. An event could be briefly addressed in on tale and be elaborated upon in another, or a character who cameos in one place could be a leading player elsewhere. But connections don't always equal the participants eventually having to come together, let alone in a conflict. Is anyone really asking to see the Invisible Man fight the Bride of Frankenstein? For the Mummy to throw down against the Creature from the Black Lagoon? For Frankenstein's monster to tussle with the Wolfman? Okay, that last one actually does sound appealing, but regardless, it's refreshing to see a cinematic franchise take a simpler approach with crafting a world.
As much as I enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I also understand how daunting it can be for casual moviegoers to be fully invested in a franchise that's 15 movies deep right now, with nine more on the way and numerous TV shows on top of that. The Dark Universe is much "smaller," so it doesn't have to worry about becoming as complicated. And because there's less of a precedent to bring its characters together compared to Marvel and its comic book roots. Prodigium can be the primary connective tissue between these movies, and along with an occasional reference/mention, nothing else is needed. These monsters are popular enough to stand on their own, and above all else, storytelling needs to be the main focus, not a spectacle.
Will the Dark Universe be successful? That's hard to say. The Mummy cost $125 million to make (excluding marketing costs), so if it doesn't make a profit, that could force Universal to shift course on how it handles its future monster movies. Remember, Dracula Untold was initially supposed to launch the shared Universal Monsters world, but following its critical and commercial failure, it was tossed aside in favor of The Mummy (although vampires do exist in this world, as teased in a Mummy featurette). Nevertheless, Universal has dated Bride of Frankenstein and is developing The Invisible Man, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Van Helsing, so the studio is clearly invested in making this franchise work alongside the likes of The Fast and the Furious and Jurassic Park series. And who knows, maybe one day Universal will decide to bring its monsters together in a movie, but at least the Dark Universe isn't building to that right from the get-go, instead letting its creatures shine individually.
The Dark Universe officially begins on June 9 with the release of The Mummy, and will continue when Bride of Frankenstein hits theaters on February 14, 2019.
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