Hollywood is, to borrow a term from sports, a copycat industry. Sustained success is so difficult to come by that anytime a studio does something right, others inevitably attempt to do the same thing. Very rarely, however, do those attempts at mimicry meet with anything approaching the success of the original. Such was the case when Universal attempted to capture some of the magic and profitability of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by creating a shared timeline of its own with a “Dark Universe” that would draw upon the studio’s classic monster movie franchises.
The Dark Universe started and ended with 2017's reboot of The Mummy, a strange and bad film that stands out mostly for its confidence in thinking it would be the beginning of a franchise. (It was never made entirely clear whether 2014's very bad Dracula Untold would wind up being Dark Universe canon. The Mummy’s director said no; star Luke Evans continued to express hope otherwise.) But, as a new essay from The Outline’s J.R. Hennessy argues, perhaps the Dark Universe did have some potential in its own, weird, lurching way.
As Hennessy puts it, the Dark Universe was almost certainly never going to be good, per se, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a chance for some stupid fun. “We didn’t even get to see Russell Crowe’s Mr. Hyde making a snarky quip to the camera before kicking Dracula off a bridge, confirming once and for all that we live in a failed timeline which has strayed spectacularly from God’s design,” he writes.
And, as bad an idea as it all was, it’s easy to forget that there once was a time when the Avengers didn’t necessarily seem like a pop culture home run either.
Let’s put aside the obviously dumb-assed energy of trying to assemble the cast of 19th-century penny dreadfuls into a slick contemporary entertainment product for a moment here. The Avengers were tired, old anachronisms when Marvel decided to dust them off — so why can’t we do the same with the now 122-year-old Dracula?
Of course, even the Avengers had to work up to The Avengers. Some post-credit sequences aside, the MCU made it through a couple mostly stand-alone films before exploring how those worlds were connected. The Mummy made it through about 20 minutes of Cruise’s odd bro-mugging before heaping on the lore for the backstories of both his character and Crowe’s Dr. Hyde.
Hennessy notes that even goddamn Star Wars has begun to buckle under the weight of an annual release schedule. Can it really be that Iron Man and his friends are the only characters capable of carrying the load? In Marvel’s shadow, it feels like wishful thinking to even imagine a pop-culture juggernaut that isn’t tied-in to the MCU.
Hennessy concludes: “We deserved a Creature from the Black Lagoon/Frankenstein’s Bride crossover movie which inexplicably made a billion dollars at the box office and dominated pop culture for a decade.”
Read it in full over at The Outline.