Marvel may have kicked off the current expanded cinematic universe craze, but the concept arguably started back with the classic Universal Pictures horror films — and the studio is hoping that the first trailer for The Mummy will be the beginning of a new run of interconnected movies. Starring Tom Cruise and directed by Alex Kurtzman — best known as the writer of movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and Transformers — the new Mummy looks to be as much an action film as anything else, with Cruise stuck in a death-defying sequence right at the top, and facing various moments of peril and adventure throughout the clip. Star Trek Beyond’s Sofia Boutella stars as the titular Mummy herself.
Kurtzman has been masterminding the new “Universal Monsters” universe alongside Fast and the Furious architect Chris Morgan, with films about characters like The Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing in various stages of development. But in a briefing with journalists last week, Kurtzman emphasized that putting a universe ahead of any given character or film was a surefire way to fail.
“You have to make great individual movies, first and foremost,” Kurtzman said. “You have to deliver them. And if you do that, then the audience will follow you.” Simply jumping into an Avengers-style team-up — as some have argued that Warner Bros. has done with its handling of the DC world — doesn’t give audiences anything to latch onto or feel invested in, something that Kurtzman said Universal’s original films understand at a fundamental level. “Whether it was by default, or because they did it intentionally, they knew that the audience needed to fall in love with each individual character first, and if they did that, then a world would present itself,” he said. “So that has been the goal in making The Mummy. It’s not so much ‘build a universe,’ as it is ‘make a great Mummy movie.’”
Given that though, the hooks and larger ambitions are clear. Russell Crowe stars in The Mummy as Dr. Henry Jekyll — of Mr. Hyde fame — who is part of a mysterious group called Prodigium that seems to be focused on discovering various monsters in what will no doubt lead to eventual match-ups. (In the original Universal films, characters like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man ended up teaming up in various ways, before things took a more comedic bent in movies like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.)
But with the attempted launch of any new series, one of the biggest questions can be the matter of tone. This is an expanded universe based upon monster movies, after all, and it could conceivably swing from straight horror to the more tongue-in-cheek takes seen in the Brendan Fraser series. In that sense, both the trailer and Kurtzman are clear: The Mummy is intended to be a globe-trotting adventure film, and while there will be scares and moments where the Mummy takes center stage, this film is designed as a big-budget blockbuster with all of the elements you’d expect.
In fact, Kurtzman was careful to outline his own personal definition of a monster movie as a subgenre unto itself, explaining how as a child he was moved during the original Frankenstein when the creature unwittingly murders a young girl.
“As a kid, this really fucks you up, because you have the experience of going, ‘I really feel for this thing. I really feel for this creature… but look what this creature’s capable of doing.’” he said. “And that’s what separates a monster movie from a horror movie or a slasher movie. It is the ability to fear the monster, and feel for the monster.”