The Dark Universe failed when 2017’s dour The Mummy became Tom Cruise’s first major flop in years, but the 1999 version ironically provided a perfect blueprint for the doomed series. When the Dark Universe was first announced, audiences were skeptical at the prospect of another ambitious shared universe when the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe were both in full swing. The arrival of 2017’s Tom Cruise-starring flop The Mummy proved naysayers right and acted as evidence that some properties seemingly weren’t a good fit for the cinematic universe treatment.
However, an earlier attempt at updating The Mummy provided a far better template for what a successful Dark Universe might have looked like. Released in 1999, Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy was a fast-paced, funny, and often surprisingly scary love letter to the adventure serials of the ‘30s, the Indiana Jones movies they inspired, and of course, the original Universal movie. The superb chemistry between Rachel Weisz and Brendan Fraser, along with a stellar supporting cast and witty script, made The Mummy a fun blockbuster, although viewers often forget one crucial element of the movie’s appeal.
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Unlike later sequels, The Mummy Returns or The Scorpion King (which tried to make the Rock a villain), The Mummy featured some authentically solid scares which were memorable but never ruined the summer blockbuster atmosphere of the film. The tricky tonal balance the ’99 Mummy struck made the movie a success, and it is a style the Dark Universe could have been built around.
The Dark Universe Aimed To Be A Monster Blockbuster Series
With the Dark Universe, Universal attempted to dust off one of the studio’s most valuable IPs, their classic movie monsters like the Mummy, the Wolfman or Frankenstein, and repackage them as action blockbuster characters. The concept (and even the name of the project) was clearly inspired by the success of the MCU, and they planned to have Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll and his organization Prodigium – who hunt supernatural beings – act as the Nick Fury of this planned interconnected series. After the release of The Mummy in 2017, this proposed series would also have included Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man or director Bill Condon’s The Bride Of Frankenstein.
Why The Dark Universe Failed
Despite the pedigree of the talent involved, The Mummy 2017 was a mess that fared passably at the box office but earned the ire of both viewers and critics alike. The film had a generic story that managed to be both predictable and hard-to-follow, un-involving action, misjudged comic relief, and an ugly grey/green color palette. Even big names like Tom Cruise felt miscast, and despite Jake Johnson provided one of Jurassic World’s biggest laughs, the star was wasted in a comic relief role that felt airlifted in from another, less self-serious film. The overstuffed movie felt like a feature-length commercial for the planned shared universe, setting up sequels rather than prioritizing being an involving adventure on its own terms. Meanwhile, while it may not have been the biggest problem The Mummy faced, the studio’s hubris in loudly announcing its Dark Universe plans before the first movie was even released did little to warm audiences or critics to it.
The Mummy 1999 Set The Perfect Dark Universe Template
The biggest issue with The Mummy 2017 is that, despite a lengthy runtime, the movie could never quite decide what it wanted to be. It attempts a bit of every genre, from blockbuster action to a straight scary horror movie and even a bit of misplaced comedy. None of these stuck, and if there were already questions about the logic of taking monsters with tragic backstories and retrofitting them into noisy blockbusters, The Mummy 2017 proved this was unachievable. Only that’s not quite true, as The Mummy 1999 had already proved that telling the monster’s sad backstory while maintaining a fun, frightening, and action-packed tone could be done. Few movies nail the ’99 Mummy‘s tone, but it is a perfect fit for an action-horror-adventure cinematic universe.
The Mummy 1999 Proves The Dark Universe Could Have Worked
Functioning as an entertaining mixture of action, adventure, and comedy, Stephen Sommers’ earlier version of The Mummy even has some dark moments, as well as a tragic backstory for its villain that is condensed into the opening scenes but still feels fleshed-out. The fact The Mummy spawned two hit sequels shows audiences were on board with what the 1999 movie was offering, and if Cruise’s franchise had drawn more inspiration from its template for making action/horror hybrids, maybe the 2017 reboot could have worked. The success of the earlier Mummy also shows the approach of creating an action-horror hybrid wasn’t always doomed to fail, the excuse a lot of the press surrounding the Dark Universe used as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The Future Of The Dark Universe (Could It Still Copy The 1999 Mummy?)
The Dark Universe may seem to be dormant and licking its wounds after the failure of The Mummy, but some stirrings imply the project may be revived – although perhaps not in the fashion audiences would hope. The sleeper hit success of 2020’s The Invisible Man reignited interest in the premise of reintroducing the Universal movie monsters via new horror outings that update these classic characters. However, that movie boasted a far darker tone than 1999’s The Mummy, being an intense psychological thriller rather than a blockbuster adventure. Pitch Perfect 3 helmer Elizabeth Banks is working on a follow-up tentatively titled The Invisible Woman, but it’s also unlikely to take inspiration from 1999’s The Mummy.
The fact The Invisible Woman screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson recently worked on the psychological thriller The Girl On The Train, along with the critical praise for the grounded, realistic tone of Invisible Man, means any new additions to the Dark Universe will likely be straight horror movies without the humorous tone of Odd Thomas director Sommers’ underrated 1999 adventure. It is a shame as, while more horror in the vein of The Invisible Man is a welcome arrival at the multiplex, the Dark Universe had the potential to make numerous fun movies in the vein of 1999’s The Mummy if the series had just taken (ironically) a lighter approach.
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