I have now read some reviews for ‘The Mummy’ (2017) and seen a trailer or two. Without having seen the movie (yet), my thoughts on Universal’s “Dark Universe” - I still think that they missed a trick by not calling it the “Universal Monsterverse” or, even better, the “Monster Mash” – are as follows.
What is a “Cinematic Universe”? Is it just a grandiose title for something very banal and obvious – movies taking place in fictional worlds? Well, in the context of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU), the term actually makes sense creatively. Marvel’s superhero stories are set in various “universes” (which have numerical designations), allowing Marvel to tell stories outside of their mainstream continuity with variations of established characters. The MCU is just one of these universes and would, for example, allow Marvel to release tie-in comic books without needing to square the movies’ plots and characters with established comic book continuity. The same will probably apply to the “DC Extended Universe”.
The concept of a “cinematic universe” also has the advantage of creating brand awareness of a franchise rather than its individual components. Interestingly, hardly any of the superheroes, which make up the MCU, are particularly prominent characters: Marvel had sold off the movie rights to their most successful titles such as The Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Spider-Man (since repatriated) and was initially left with second-rate (in terms of name-recognition) superheroes such as Iron Man and Thor. The MCU was a successful attempt to create consumer loyalty to the overall Marvel brand rather than individual titles, which has also allowed Marvel studios to successfully release films such as ‘Ant-Man’, which wouldn’t have been commercially feasible outside of the MCU.
Obviously, the raison d’être of the “Dark Universe” is exclusively the business side of things. It seems that Universal Studios don’t have much confidence in their intellectual property. Sure, you can hardly call Dracula a B-lister considering the considerable name recognition of the character, but are audiences in 2017 really interested in yet another Dracula movie (or Mummy movie or Frankenstein movie)? Universal Studios don’t seem to think so, which doesn’t bode well for the franchise.
As for the actual content, it is worth pointing out that, starting with 1941’s ‘Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man’, Universal Studios have already released a series of movies, in which the various monsters from their portfolio meet up. Then, there was the execrable 2004 movie ‘Van Helsing’. In other words, the general idea is very old and hasn’t ever produced a single critically acclaimed or even fondly remembered movie. Calling the “Dark Universe” creatively bankrupt without having seen a single film yet is a bit rich, but I can’t see a single artistic reason justifying the whole thing.
Of course, I’ll reserve judgement until I will have seen ‘The Mummy’ and – despite of being highly skeptical – hope that the movie(s) will work out fine. The idea to combine various fictional characters in an overarching story does have potential, as shown by Alan Moore’s comic book series “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. Then again, the ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ movie was one of the worst adaptations of a comic book/graphic novel ever.