Be forewarned, this article contains some spoilers.
As far as Universal’s Dark Universe is concerned, this weekend’s The Mummy is easily the most important film of them all. Since it’s the first one in the new universe (sorry, Dracula Untold fans), the Alex Kurtzman-directed film is surely going to be used as a gauge for fan interest in the ambitious project. Unfortunately, with pretty negative reviews across the board and scarily low box office estimates, the future of the Dark Universe is already looking pretty bleak.
But if Universal does get the chance to continue forward, The Mummy serves the purpose of being a pretty good indicator of what we can expect from subsequent entries. Going into this weekend, we already knew that Universal was playing with big stars as well as big budgets, and we also knew that the rebooted monster movies were going to be set in the present day. But what more have we learned about the Dark Universe, now that we’ve had a chance to see the first piece of the puzzle?
Here are five things The Mummy taught us about the (hopefully not already dead) Dark Universe.
1) SELF AWARENESS
Easily my personal favorite aspect of The Mummy, which I had a good amount of fun with, was its sense of humor. While hardcore fans of the Universal Monsters would probably have preferred that Universal got serious and scary with the Dark Universe (would have been nice, eh?), there’s something to be said for the self-awareness that is almost always at the forefront in The Mummy. Jake Johnson may be the comic relief as Tom Cruise’s sidekick, but even Cruise himself plays a goofy character who often feels like a parody of, well, a Tom Cruise action hero.
There are more than a couple sequences wherein our heroes do battle with freshly resurrected zombies that feel ripped out of a Sam Raimi film, and The Mummy as a whole is constantly having fun with the material and winking at the audience. Universal clearly isn’t taking themselves too seriously here, which proved to be a winning formula for Marvel’s superhero films. Will the Marvel blueprint help Universal create their own successful universe? The jury is still out on that one.
For now, a nude Tom Cruise suggests fun is the key ingredient here.
2) HORROR IS NOT BEING LEFT OUT
The biggest fear many had going into The Mummy was that Universal had completely abandoned the horror element that made their shared monsters universe a success in the first place, and indeed the film does have way more in common with the Brendan Fraser movie than it does the Boris Karloff one. If The Mummy is an indication, the Dark Universe films are going to be packed with adventure and action… but that doesn’t mean the roots of these monster movies are being left out in the cold.
It may not exactly be scary to most of us, but there’s a good deal of horror present in The Mummy, which is darker than the Fraser movies. As the advertising materials suggest, she spends much of the film as a beautiful woman, but the titular villain begins her reign of terror as a gnarly creature that just might inspire some nightmares in younger viewers. In order to restore her former beauty, Princess Ahmanet must first suck the life out of a handful of human hosts, which makes for some nasty sequences wherein heads are literally drained down to the bone ala the “wanna suck face?” scene from Elm Street: Dream Master.
Ahmanet also resurrects the dead and uses them as her own personal zombie army, so that horror element is present even when the title character is more sexy than scary.
3) THE CONNECTIVE TISSUE
How exactly does Universal plan on bringing all of their iconic monsters together into one shared universe? Many of the Universal Monster movies had no real connection to one another, so Universal had to get creative and form Prodigium: a mysterious multi-national organization devoted to tracking, studying and—when necessary—destroying the world’s monsters. We learn a whole lot about Prodigium in The Mummy, which spends a good deal of time deep within the bowels of the organization.
Russell Crowe is essentially the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe as Dr. Henry Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), an iconic character woven into the fabric of the Universal Monster movies in a fun way for this new Dark Universe. Jekyll, who transforms into the murderous Hyde whenever he hasn’t had a shot of a special serum he’s created for himself, is in charge of Prodigium, and The Mummy teases that he’s already come face-to-face with certain creatures from black lagoons as well as vampires – as a fun nod to the 1999 version of The Mummy, he’s even got a copy of the Book of the Dead in the Prodigium library!
The Mummy doesn’t directly tease any subsequent Dark Universe movies (surprisingly, there isn’t a Marvel-style post-credits sequence), but it does a good job establishing that whole world without taking too much away from the individual story at hand. It seems that Jekyll will appear in each of the films, with Prodigium serving to connect all the different monsters together.
Speaking of which…
4) NICK MORTON IS OUR NEW VAN HELSING?
As we speculated going into The Mummy, it seems pretty clear that Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton is, like Crowe’s Henry Jekyll, one of the linchpins of the Dark Universe. In the final act, Morton becomes a vessel for, basically, Satan himself, but he’s got enough goodness in his heart that the evil inside of him isn’t always at the forefront. Like Jekyll, he’s able to keep the evil at bay, and it’s strongly suggested that Morton will be coming back in subsequent films as a Van Helsing-like character who helps Prodigium capture and kill off monsters like Frankenstein, the Wolfman, etc.
Morton has become a monster in his own right, but as Jekyll tells archaeologist Jenny Halsey, it sometimes takes a monster to defeat a monster. That’s a thread we expect Universal to pick up as the Dark Universe expands beyond The Mummy. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Van Helsing get a reboot in its own right, with Morton as a new take on the title character. Perhaps that’s the end-game of this whole thing: Morton vs. all the monsters – the Dark Universe’s version of The Avengers, so to speak.
Either way, we expect much more Cruise going forward.
5) NEW TAKES ON CLASSIC MONSTERS
Of course, the whole idea of the Dark Universe is to make old monsters new again, but one of the coolest things about The Mummy is the complete reinvention of Imhotep into a badass female character who’s classic yet completely different than what we’ve come to expect from these movies. Like the original Universal Monsters, she’s a tragic figure whose driven to do evil by her own internal pain, but she’s also a brand new horror villain who feels very much in line with today’s sensibilities – as Kalyn Corrigan noted in her review, she’s a “wickedly cool modern day fierce female character.”
Sofia Boutella is perfectly cast in the role, and the image of her as the bandaged-up Ahmanet is almost instantly iconic – she makes a pretty good case for standing alongside the greats of the Universal oeuvre. The studio’s monster movies were not exactly known for featuring strong female characters back in the day, so it’s pretty cool to see Universal leaning so heavily on, well, strong female characters. The Mummy is being followed by Bride of Frankenstein, so they’re launching the Dark Universe with not one but TWO female monsters. Pretty damn progressive, eh?
How will the other classic monsters be brought back to the screen? We have no way of knowing at this time. But if The Mummy is a preview of what’s to come, we expect that we’re going to be introduced to a new crop of monsters that share DNA with their predecessors while also being as original as rebooted characters can possibly be. It’s truly set to be a new world of gods and monsters.
Here’s hoping that Universal gets the chance to expand, hone and perfect the Dark Universe. The Mummy may not be the strongest start, but I’m fully on board for what’s coming next.