Properties based on properties based on properties.
This is the future of Hollywood, folks—the endless recycling of once-popular titles for a new generation, because we’ve (for the most part) run out of new and creative ideas. Within our lifetime, both Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings may fall victim to this trend, as well, despite the franchises just having been popular within the last decade or so.
Cinematic universes are fine, mostly; come up with fun and interesting ways to connect all your related properties—why not? Disney-Marvel is the gold standard for this model, while others—like DC Comics and, now, Universal Studios—are now trying to catch up. Likewise, this is a rocky start to Universal’s “Dark Universe”.
Casting can make or break an attempt at a shared universe; more often than not, these people will have to be committed to their roles for the foreseeable future, if returning characters are to be a thing (which, typically, they are).
That said, Tom Cruise is, not surprisingly, the most entertaining part of this newest take on The Mummy. He always fully-commits to his roles, and does a lot of his own stunts, despite pushing into his mid-fifties. Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet had the potential to be something new and intriguing, but missing the mark may not necessarily be her fault; her character is just a very cut-and-dry villain, with issues reaching all the way back to initial character design and writing. Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll—the Nick Fury of this new CU, overseeing the supernatural Prodigium (S.H.I.E.L.D.)—will be an interesting one to see incorporated into the new lore, but filled his role really well in this first film (for what little screen-time he has), with questions left unanswered for later films. On the flipside, Annabelle Wallis’s performance was flat, and Jake Johnson was way too obnoxious and shout-y. Even after his character dies (which is not a spoiler).
The sets are dark and feel organic. We see and move through a variety of locations, from the streets of urban Iraq and Ahmanet’s prison, to the tight corners of the Prodigium and winding boulevards of modern London.
There are a lot of nods to previous Universal monster movies—including the previous iteration of this title from 1999—and allusions to future installments in the shared universe. Personally, I’m looking forward to the Creature from the Black Lagoon remake…and have been for a while, ever since that little easter egg in 2006’s The Benchwarmers, and—more recently—Scarlett Johansson being announced as the female lead.
I thought, for sure, that Gary Shore’s Dracula Untold from 2014 would’ve been the spark for this new CU, as it concludes in the present day, but it turns out that this latest film is the “official” start to the Dark Universe. I also expected a post-credits scene that hinted at the next chronological installment. I’ve since learned, however, that this is an idea that was lazily shooed aside by director Alex Kurtzman as being “Marvel’s thing”. Okay, bro…
What I’m trying to say is, there’s no real sense of scope here…yet. I won’t devote myself to this new Dark Universe like I have with Marvel’s MCU, but I’ll definitely hold out hope for it, as I am with DC.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: ***/**. Universal has lots of ground to cover with their monsters, and to do so successfully will require some serious thought and planning. They shouldn’t try to be Marvel, but use the MCU design as a template for their own success.
Next review: It Comes At Night