The Death of Universal’s Dark Universe and the Issues with Universe Building in Film
The Hollywood Reporter released a report indicating that the much maligned Dark Universe may be dead after only one installment. After The Mummy underperformed and received horrible reviews, Universal has slowly backed away from the universe that it attempted to shove down our throats.
Now, the universe’s main producers, Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, are working on other pursuits and the next installment in the series, The Bride of Frankenstein, is on hold for the foreseeable future. Universal is once again at square one, owning great properties with zero idea what to do with them.
What Went Wrong?
Leading up to the release of The Mummy, Universal began to push the Dark Universe rather than the movie itself. In fact, casting choices for future films were released, such as Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster. This hilariously photoshopped cast photo proved that Universal was doubling down on the universe:
The company even released a trailer for the Dark Universe that amounted to a tease of the logo set to modern action music:
I think famed Youtubers RedLetterMedia put it best:
I SAW FRANKENSTEIN AND I CLAAAAAAAAPPED!!!!
That joke will probably only resonate with about 25% of the people who read this article. Ohh well…moving on!
The Mummy turned into more than just a movie, it became a launching point for an infinite amount of other movies. Everything was calculated, down to making a film that tried to satisfy everyone and yet ended up satisfying no one. The Mummy is everything and also nothing. It failed to create a story that was compelling on its own. Instead, we got Russell Crowe looking like an idiot as he tried to set up other films.
Filled with shameless attempts to help foreign markets understand the film, The Mummy wasn’t a film, it was a 105-minute commercial for more to come.
Those That Don’t Learn from History are Doomed to Repeat It
For some reason, Universal thought it was a good idea to make Alex Kurtzman the head of the Dark Universe, and yet he had a serious issue with universe building before The Mummy. The other high profile universe disaster of recent memory was Sony’s Spider-Man universe. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so concerned with branching off into other films that it forgot to make a singular movie that was moderately satisfying.
And who was the head writer on that project? None other than Alex Kurtzman!
Alex, you seem like a pleasant fella, but why must you jam movies together? Why do studios keep hiring you in similar positions?
For some odd reason, studios continue to try to make films that have the possibility of five more films to come without ever focusing on the main story at hand. Why would I come back for more movies when the first one made me question my life choices? What kind of business model is that?
Rather than sticking to a tight, three-act structure, these plots stop dead in their tracks for an information dump character to explain what our characters have in store for them after their current adventure. Isn’t watching Tom Cruise fight a mummy fun in of itself?
The Exception to the Rule
When constructing interconnected universes, everyone points to the MCU as the template. But, the MCU is anything but. In actuality, it’s a unicorn.
Before we praised Kevin Feige for his great work as an auteur of the MCU, he had years of experience, and plenty of opportunities to fail. Here are all the flops in which Feige had a producer credit:
X-Men: The Last Stand
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Feige was able to see what worked and what didn’t, allowing him to create a better foundation for the MCU. Marvel Studios was in dire straits at the beginning of the MCU. It needed to focus on creating one good movie at time, slowly growing out the universe. Sure, it had nods to other characters and worlds, but they were mainly featured in end credit sequences after the main story had been completed and wrapped up in a neat bow.
Unlike the Dark Universe, the MCU focused on growing attachments to each individual character before bringing them together and colliding worlds. The MCU set a new precedent in Hollywood, forcing everyone else to catch up. With that type of environment set, Marvel had what everyone else didn’t: time.
Building great universes take time and patience, two qualities that are rarely given to producers and filmmakers because executives become so enamored with possible profits that they want them now. Didn’t your parents teach you anything about waiting?
We’ve seen similar issues with Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe. Rather than relax and give Superman his rightfully deserved sequel, he was thrown into a muddled mess that was Batman V Superman.
With a lot of data saying its almost impossible to correctly set up a connected universe of films, hopefully this news is what gets studios to move away from it altogether. There have been minor successes other than the MCU, but none of them ever have reached the same amount of widespread popularity or interconnectedness that feels somewhat organic. The Dark Universe may return in another form, but there’s no question that this news is a serious setback.
In the end, it comes down to making good movies, not advertisements for future films that never come. Otherwise, your studio will pump out something that only RedLetterMedia can explain…
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the Dark Universe? Comment down below!
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