In the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio wants a behemoth self-referential franchise to call its own. Last night, we got a look at Universal’s effort: a reboot of the classic Universal Monsters films, beginning with The Mummy. The lurching bandaged corpse of the past has been replaced with Tom Cruise, an ancient female mummy bent on global destruction, and an extravagant special effects budget.
Universal is serious about this franchise push, going so far as to lay groundwork in the very first trailer. “Welcome,” says Russell Crowe, “to a new world of gods and monsters.” But how does the studio plan to adapt eight-year-old properties to compete with Iron Man and the Skywalker family?
Let me explain:
Is Brendan Fraser involved?
What? No. The Mummy is a new take on the classic Universal Studios The Mummy franchise. It doesn’t in any fashion involve Brendan Fraser, but instead stars Tom Cruise as a military leader trying to stop the titular Mummy (Star Trek Beyond’s Sofia Boutella) from destroying London. It’s supposed to be an action-adventure movie with horror elements, but that’s all we really know about the plot at this point.
However, the most interesting (or, depending on your opinion on the state of cinema, frustrating) aspect of the movie is that it’s meant to kick off a massive cinematic universe for the Universal Monsters.
Wait. You mean like what Marvel and Warner Bros. are doing with superheroes?
So… Avengers but with Dracula and the Wolf Man.
Okay, I see you rolling your eyes, but… kind of. Essentially, The Mummy is being used to launch a large, interconnected story involving the classic monsters from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Movies about the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Abraham van Helsing, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even the Bride of Frankenstein are already in early stages of development, and their stories will, in theory, intersect on film in the years ahead.
Russell Crowe appears to be the glue. In The Mummy, he plays a version of Dr. Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll) and is part of a group hunting for mythical monsters. So you can think of him as Universal’s take on Nick Fury.
Whether or not all these monsters will appear on-screen together is unclear, but don’t be surprised if they do at some point because that appears to be the endgame for this sort of undertaking.
Do we really need more cinematic universes? I mean there’s already a Transformers cinematic universe in the works...
I totally get your exhaustion, especially since Warner Bros.’ own DC Extended Universe hasn’t been exactly a critical darling. (Here’s hoping Wonder Woman changes that a bit.) But Universal seems to have learned from its mistakes, and as director Alex Kurtzman said during a recent press briefing, the team behind Monsters intends to establish characters independently, in more or less standalone films, before throwing them altogether. Which is to say that instead of jumping right into the Monsters equivalent of Batman v Superman and Justice League, we’re getting The Wolf Man and Van Helsing.
Also, you can take heart in knowing that Universal has already pulled off a number of movie monster crossovers in the past.
Really? I thought Marvel basically invented that style.
Not exactly. While Marvel certainly perfected the sprawling meta-narrative featuring the same cast of characters, Universal was doing monster crossovers back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The first was 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and that spawned follow-ups like House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein, which featured the big players like Dracula and the Mummy.
Oh wow. Were they any good?
The original Monster films are excellent. The mash-ups, not so much. There’s certainly something to be said about goofy camp and how fun that can be. These movies weren’t exactly Oscar contenders, but they did make money, so Universal kept making them. You can chalk that up as the reason why they made the genre’s swan song Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948, where the comic duo run into all three of the studio’s big monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man.
Speaking of Dracula, wasn’t there that Dracula Untold movie a few years back? Does that fit into this in any way?
Oh, you’re one of the few who remembers that one. Yes, back in 2014, Dracula Untold was meant to start the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe. But seeing as it was both a commercial and critical failure, the studio wisely decided to start fresh.
I personally think that’s a shame. As hacky as that movie was, Luke Evans was kind of compelling as a tragic Count Dracula.
And he made turning into bats look pretty cool.
I know, right?
Okay I think I get it now. Is it weird I wanna look up what Brendan Fraser is up to, though?
No. I’m watching Monkeybone clips as we speak.