May 12, 2017

The Mummy and the Universal Monsters Universe


The Mummy? Hmmm… I get it. I do. These sorts of “creative” decisions about properties come down to simply what the suits think will make them the most money, right? What you as fan think will make a good story doesn’t matter. What you as a fan think about the integrity of the characters doesn’t matter. Kill your internal monologue—it’s always what the execs think is going to pull in the most money.

Universal looks around, they see all these connected film franchises that regularly pull in around a billion dollars, and so they naturally want their cut and their monsters movies seem like a good place to start.

Once they start looking, what do they see? Del Toro’s Crimson Peak was a complete failure, Dracula Untold with Luke Evans fizzled at the Box Office, The Benicio Del Toro attempt at The Wolfman was another flop, all their big plans for Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing (including a TV show called Transylvania) were shelved after those box office returns, and finally they come to The Mummy franchise with Brendon Fraser.

So next it becomes, “…all those superhero films are action heavy and so is Star Wars…” So naturally, they decide to kick off their Universal Monster Movie franchise with an action-adventure The Mummy with some horror elements.


But here’s the thing: yeah, I think the new version of The Mummy looks like a fun action-adventure film with some horror elements. And Tom Cruise is the male hero so I’m sure they’ll be at least one really-involved and cool stunt sequence that he and Christopher McQuarrie came up with and that Cruise trained for 6 months to be able to pull off. But despite all that…

...I’m not really sure if this is the best way to kick off a successful Universal Monster Movie franchise. The big problem is there really is nothing unique to the Universal Monsters. Anyone can make a Dracula film, a Frankenstein film (like Fox did with their version of Frankenstein that featured McAvoy and Radcliffe), or a Mummy movie without any interference from Universal as long as they’re not plagiarizing a script or using those unique character looks that they’ve trademarked (so no green skin, flat-topped Frankenstein with neck bolts or black beehive with white streaks, gossamer-gowned Bride of Frankenstein unless you want to get sued).

This is why I don’t think too many people are exactly scrambling for a new classic monster movie that wasn’t born out of something fresh…like Penny Dreadful which made use of all those same classic monster characters pretty expertly in a character-driven story that included some great takes and new twists. Plus, Penny Dreadful’s story was cohesive and complete instead of being cobbled together by a bunch of different writers hired for different parts of your franchise.

There's also the issue of the action-adventure focus over the horror, the modern setting over the past. Seems like a sure-fire way to disappoint people who might want a classic monster movie that’s maybe scary…? I mean, do you really want to see Frankenstein smashing through a tank when you have The Hulk? Besides that, I'm pretty sure that Fox is working on another version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Lastly, starting right away at the big scale we see in The Mummy trailers means you’re either going to have to keep upping the ante for each successive film before you’ve built real interest or you’re going to start big and then have to backpedal to something quieter. These sorts of films with tons of effects and big action sequences all lead to big budgets which mean the films must get big box office returns to even break even. So I'm not sure I see all this really leading anywhere except for maybe another couple of action-y movies for Tom Cruise to star in.

What would you do with the Universal Monsters franchise?
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