Dark Universe: 5 ways to improve the franchise
Despite a somewhat decent box-office run given the premise, The Mummy will be a loss for Universal. The result shows once again the increasing power of critics towards certain movies. Long story short: the Dark Universe didn’t exactly start with the right foot.
Of course, that does not mean much. While we are in a different era despite only 12 years, Batman Begins grossed just $360 million at the end of its run. In comparison, The Mummy closed at $342 million total this past weekend, its third since release. Yes, the Nolan movie had good reviews, and it was Batman, but that does not change the fact the project did not break even. Other examples are Captain America: The First Avenger ending its run at $370 million, Thor ending at $450 million and The Incredible Hulk at $263 million. Translated: even though both Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were the only true successes of the franchise, Marvel did not give up on the MCU.
And we all know the rest of the story.
The Dark Universe start was a misstep? In parts, yes, but not everything is trash.
So here are my two cents on how to make this franchise better.
Embrace the action-adventure-horror tone
One of the things I noticed while watching The Mummy, was that the first act was really similar to the likes of Uncharted and Tomb Raider reboot. Having played both games, I felt the atmospheres were borrowed from the games, as well as the balance between adventure and action. On top of that, Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton is so similar to Nathan Drake that they might actually be related (if that was possible).
While the balance and the atmospheres are also completely lost for the rest of the movie, both games should be used as a reference for future installments. That way Universal could realize exactly what genre this Dark Universe will be. Which is surely a win since The Mummy is all over the place in these terms.
Now, there’s a common knowledge that you can’t really scare anyone if your horror is PG-13. Movies like The Sixth Sense, Insidious, Split, The Ring, The Possession and the original Poltergeist (which was rated just PG) to name a few prove that to be wrong.
With that in mind, The Mummy was actually marketed more as an action flick, so the disappointment for the lack of scares from both critics and audience is pointless. Yet, I don’t see any reason to not include the scary element into the franchise. That would please fans of the old monsters movies, as well as differentiate the Dark Universe from other shared universe franchises.
One of the things that set up The Mummy for failure was its prologue.
As you might recall, the film starts with a very long flashback to show who Ahmanet is and how she died and why she is cursed. Everything is narrated by Russell Crowe, who literally describes what we see.
As a filmmaker who studied more or less how studios work, I’m not surprised of this. The flashback is shot with very little dialogue, and that very little dialogue is Egyptian. So, I totally see why studio heads opted for this, as they were concerned whether or not the audience would understand what they were watching during a cut without narration.
Yet, the idea of adding narration backfired. We are told everything right off the bat and then the characters are yet again told the same thing because they are not aware of anything about her. This pissed the audience, as a good 50% of what was happening in the movie was not a revelation anymore. Plus, without the narration, the scene would have turned into a puzzle the audience would try to put together and see whether they were right or wrong when the characters questions were unveiling the whole mystery.
Goes without saying to give up that kind of exposition, as it kills mystery and audience involvement.
More comedy bits
Ok, this might sound blasphemous to some, but every blockbuster which mainly aims to entertain, no matter how serious it might be, should include comedy bits to relax the audience for a moment. I mean, Spielberg puts little comedy bits in all his movies, including Schindler’s List, so why not in the Dark Universe?
One of the low points of The Mummy is the lack of relationship between Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson. While it is justified within the storyline, the movie first act also revolves around Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), showing us how much chemistry both actors have. Luckily, the movie does not kill off Johnson character, and the end teases that whatever’s next for the Nick Morton’s life, is not without Vail. So, I’m expecting more of the two sharing screen time next time we meet them.
I think that all next installments should include more comedy bits here and there. Also, the whole cast proved to be great in comedy in past projects, so why not take advantage of that?
Have a clear idea where to end it
This point might be weird to some, as we all know Hollywood Studios want to make money and won’t stop in front of everything. And Universal is not an exception.
While I completely understand that mentality (the movie business still works in a capitalistic economy), the Dark Universe should not be like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is planned to continue until who knows when. In my mind, this franchise should end at the final Avengers-like crossover.
This is because it would once again differentiate the Dark Universe to the other franchise, but also because the age of the actors involved.
While Sophie Boutella could go on for two decades playing Ahmanet, Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp are 54, Russell Crowe 53 and Javier Bardem is 48. To make a comparison, Robert Downey Jr is 54 but started playing Iron Man 10 years ago, and there’s a good chance we won’t see him anymore in the MCU after the next two Avengers movies. In 10 years, I don’t see those actors being in the middle of a long-term franchise.
A smart move would be to have a crystal clear idea where all these movies are leading to, knowing that the crossover installment might be the last.
To be honest, I think Universal is planning the Dark Universe like this in terms of franchise-length, looking at the actors involved, but I had to put this idea in here.
So, these are my opinions regarding what could be good for the Dark Universe. What do you think could make this franchise better?