Universal’s plans to launch their own Marvel-esque cinematic universe off the back of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy may have been scarpered by the film’s abysmal reception by critics and the box office alike.
The film serves as a remake of the studio’s original classic horror franchise, and the widely enjoyed trilogy starring Brendan Fraser as Rick O’Connell. Despite a big name main lead in the shape of Tom Cruise, The Mummy was unable to be the exciting action thriller that audiences wanted, debuting at a shoddy $31.5 domestically. Now this most likely doesn’t mean an absolute end to Universal’s Dark Universe franchise, but the rocky start does not bode well at all.
“Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters,” is the tagline of this emerging cinematic universe, but there’s really not much new to see here at all. Frankenstein, Dracula, Van Helsing.. names we’re all familiar with thanks to Universal’s original horror films spanning from the 1920s through to the 1950s. Each were enjoyed – and acclaimed – in their own right, so where did The Mummy get it so wrong in comparison?
The classic 1934 The Mummy seems a world away from the 2017 version, which is clear from the get go. The quieter, more atmospheric horror which was commonplace in the Golden Age of Hollywood excited audiences without the need for cheap jump scares or shoehorned freakiness. Their contemporary counterpart, however, is incredibly reliant on CGI which becomes more frustratingly present as the film progresses. Rather than allowing the special effects to assist in the modernisation of the story, the film is completely engulfed by it.
The more familiar trilogy starring Brendan Fraser was, despite not ever necessarily being that scary, a great deal of fun. A main draw to the films were their 1920s setting, which gave a classic feel to the monster story. In an effort to be more relatable to audiences, Kurtzman’s Mummy takes place entirely in the modern day which is arguably a further step away from the classic story we’ve known to love. This change could have worked, but it just didn’t.
Ever growingly, Hollywood has been turning to familiar stories in order to cash in at the box office but the nostalgic cash cow may be slowing down on production. 2017 saw many a reimagined story flop commercially, probably most notably Baywatch and the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie. This explicit lack of success may signal that audiences are tired of the reboot, and are probably only going to turn up if the film is actually good.
The Mummy, despite being the first of a franchise, lacks any kind of standalone prowess. The 107 minute long runtime of the film feels like a drawn out and laborious setup for a story which never really gets anywhere, with the incredibly heavy exposition feeling entirely out of place. Considering that this is the first slice of Universal’s Dark Universe that we’ve been exposed to – I’m worried about the future of the franchise.
Let’s talk about the power, or lack thereof, of the big name star. It’s a tested given that any film with a name like Tom Cruise’s attached is going to sell and probably make big money at the box office, but there seems to have been a shift in the priority of filmgoers. Celebrities like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire just don’t exist anymore, and star power doesn’t seem to have the same pull that it used to. For instance, Get Out has been very widely acclaimed despite the lack of a recognisable cast list.
Competition this summer has been fierce, with Wonder Woman in particular hitting the ball out of the park. A stellar opening at the box office has forced The Mummy to barely even ride the coattails of the DCEU’s most recent offering. It must be said, however, that The Mummy has smashed it internationally – with the film being Cruise’s largest international opening of his entire career.
It’s hard to judge whether or not the films which are going to make up the Dark Universe franchise will be anything compared to their original progenitors, but it’s hard to be hopeful after The Mummy.
Words by Joseph Coupe