'The Mummy' reboots Universal's movie monster squad in a big way

Universal already did the monster mash, but Hollywood is hoping for another graveyard smash.

With its new shared cinematic landscape, the studio is honoring its roots as Hollywood’s horror home from the 1920s through ‘50s, rebooting creature-feature icons such as Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and putting a fright-fest spin on the successful Marvel blueprint of connected films.

"In the realm of gods and monsters, these are the superheroes," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. "Younger audiences have as their reference point the Scream and Saw movies, (but) the Mummy that was cool for my grandfather (and) Bela Lugosi’s Dracula can be made super-cool today. Those characters have stood the test of time."

The aim of the Dark Universe, which kicks off with The Mummy (in theaters Thursday night), is to “honor the heritage of the monsters and to bring them to a new audience,” says Alex Kurtzman, director and producer of The Mummy, as well as one of the creative heads of the new franchise.

Shared movie universes are big business: The 15 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have raked in $4.6 billion domestically, and DC Films' newest hit Wonder Woman is running up the $1.1 billion tally accrued over four movies. With the superhero game otherwise on lock, Universal is playing the long game with its own in-house icons, “a world of monsters that audiences have loved for generations,” says Kurtzman, while also introducing them to younger moviegoers "who may not have grown up with those monsters."

And to differentiate themselves from Hollywood’s biggest good guys, the Dark Universe is, like last year’s DC hit Suicide Squad, letting audiences invest in the baddies, adds Erik Davis, managing editor for Fandango.com and Movies.com. “One of the great things about those classic monster movies is they were scary monsters but you also cared about them and sympathized with them," he says.The new movies are leaning into how these broken, imperfect creatures "reflect something about all of us," Kurtzman says. "These monsters destroy the things they love, not because they're trying to, but because they don’t understand any other way."

Those old Universal films were built on the backs of A-list superstars of the day, such as Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff. The Dark Universe is taking a similar approach: The Mummy stars Tom Cruise as soldier of fortune Nick Morton, Sofia Boutella as the title antagonist and Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll (and his darker half Mr. Hyde), who heads up a mysterious organization that takes down worldwide monstrous threats.

 

Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem have signed on to play the Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s Monster respectively in future Dark Universe movies, while the star actress is still to be named for Bride of Frankenstein, a “female empowerment film that I cannot wait to see myself,” says Boutella.

Universal's monster reboots have had their ups and downs. The 2004 Hugh Jackman vehicle Van Helsing was a minor hit that brought Dracula, Jekyll and Frankenstein together but was creamed by critics. The 2010 remake The Wolfman, starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt, received a so-so reception, and the 2014 dark fantasy Dracula Untold with Luke Evans tweaked the formula of the high-profile vampire but didn't have much bite. More successful was 1999's The Mummy, which launched a series of Indiana Jones-style adventures starring Brendan Fraser.

The new Mummy is a hybrid of action, horror and romance, but if the Dark Universe overall doesn't emphasize the scarier elements, it risks major backlash from fans, says Scott Weinberg, film writer for Nerdist.com. "When you change the genre, you risk hurting the characters you love so much. So are you honoring them with something new or exploiting them for something trendy?”

While the individual projects have a chance to be good, these type of shared universes “are always hit and miss,” says Uproxx.com entertainment writer Mike Ryan. A big downside could be if audiences don't get wrapped up in The Mummy: “Do they go ahead and make the rest of the movies and make it clear it's tied to a movie people didn't like?”

It may take a while for the Dark Universe to find its way — The Mummy is expected to make a modest $40 million debut — but Universal “needs to stay the course and stick with this,” Dergarabedian says. “Done properly, this could be a gold mine for the studio going forward for decades.”

Contributing: Bryan Alexander

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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