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"Welcome, to a world of Gods and Monsters." Keep that phrase in mind, as Universal's Dark Universe not only marketed The Mummy on the back of both Gods and Monsters, but the studio also hold the keys to its future. Sure, the film landed on its face on the domestic front, but if you look at the international grosses, there's still life in this venture yet.
Everyone wants their own cinematic universe, and Universal is no exception. So with the presumed progress on the Dark Universe's inception, we would like to suggest a simple, six step process to keep the Universal Monsters on the right track, rather than doubling down on mistakes that can easily be corrected.
Step 1: Build The Mythos Of Prodigium
If you read between the lines of The Mummy, you can see what should have been the central story of the Dark Universe's origins: the origins and purpose of the secret organization Prodigium. With easter eggs and nods to other films in Universal's canon littered in the stretch of the film focused on their gothic, yet high tech, hideout, it's the usual tease-laden sequence that you'd expect from a universe building film. Unfortunately, The Mummy really should have been "Prodigium," which could have told the story of Dr. Henry Hyde and his own personal fight with evil. Should Universal want to be serious about involving the audience in its Dark Universe, it'd be wise if the folks in charge set Hyde's story as the true north to the rest of the series, rather than merely include a Russell Crowe cameo to somehow fold Bride of Frankenstein into the mythos retroactively.
Step 2: Lock Down A Timeline
With all of the monsters that we're looking to have present in the Dark Universe, there's the problem of what order and which eras these films will occur in. As we saw with the DC Extended Universe, you can correct a universe by telling a prequel story, i.e. Wonder Woman, but overall, the DCEU's story would have been better suited if that film was the first one out of the gate after Man of Steel, if not first overall. With a definitive timeline, the wider picture of the story in the Dark Universe can be told more proficiently, as each Monster's story would occur in its own time, with a pre-defined chunk of the Prodigium mythos to fill in. That way, when it's time for the eventual team-up, the story will be set up properly, thus upping the stakes of everyone's presence together.
Step 3: Define A Central Evil
We ran an article earlier today going over how The Mummy should have ended with Tom Cruise's God of Death becoming the big bad of the Dark Universe, but it still bears repeating. While your typical superhero franchise will start with originating a world of heroes, this is the world of gods and monsters. The Mummy introduced the gods, but it really could have provided a hell of a monster to be the lynchpin of the Dark Universe ahead. There's still time to change this, naturally, as the ending of Alex Kurtzman's film is pretty open, so future films could fill in this important plot point. Install Cruise's baddie at the center of the action, and just wait for the all of the other pieces to fall into horrific place.
Step 4: Correct The Tone
Let's get one important thing straight: The Dark Universe isn't another "Marvel" of modern cinema, nor should it become one. We're not supposed to be amped for the heroes, or the cookie-cutter happy ending. Universal Monster stories are more nuanced than that, with everything from the stark, seductive terror of Dracula to the lamentations of The Wolf Man all populating the darkly beautiful and tragic universe of their horror legacy. The Dark Universe needs to embrace this point, as its what makes it unique from the rest of the world of movies. Universal should be crafting this series of films like the Hammer Horror / Tales From The Crypt films for the new age. These are supposed to be creature features that show the darker side of humanity, with creatures horrifying enough to scare us, and backstories written well enough to make us think.
Step 5: Name A New Universe Boss
While it's Alex Kurtzman who brought The Mummy, and the Dark Universe, to the dance, it's clear that a new steward is needed for the Universal Monsters' modern incarnation. Off the top of our heads, there are two directors who would make fantastic shot callers for all things dark and gothic: Bill Condon and Guillermo del Toro. In the case of Condon, his work on the James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters, as well as his commitment to The Bride of Frankenstein reboot have shown his love of Whale's oeuvre, and his dedication to bringing it to a more modern audience. Meanwhile, del Toro's been connected to other Universal Monster projects in the past, and provided the studio with what could have served as a pre-defined replacement for Prodigium, the B.P.R.D. from Hellboy. Either of these directors would be fantastic, but so long as a filmmaker has a passion for the monsters of the past, and the filmmaking of the future, they shouldn't have a problem fitting into the Dark Universe's creative throne.
Step 6: Dial Down The Budget
This last point is a pretty big one, as The Mummy looked like it was going to be a flop from day one, all thanks to the alleged $125 million price tag attached to the film, which doesn't include the undoubtedly extensive marketing budget the film has spent to get people in the door. Truthfully, as fun as the film is, it didn't need to be that expensive. Come to think of it, none of the Dark Universe films should need to cash in on a lavish budget. You can throw money at a screen, and try to wow people all you want with bigger, louder thrills, but not with the Universal Monsters.
Rather, the money people at Universal should be finding ways to moderately budget these films, forcing those involved to rely on storytelling and inventive budget stretching to get their message through. With time tested strategies, enhanced with some modern tricks of the trade, future Dark Universe films can become the new face of fear in the modern film scene. Universal Monsters have had their day in cinema history, and if those running the show are smart, they can rule again in a new age of gods, monsters, and fearful understanding of both.