By the time you read this you should already be aware that Universal studios has decided to reboot all their classic Universal Horror films and characters (i.e. Dracula, the Mummy, the Creature, Van Helsing, etc,) into an inter-connected universe and franchise (ala the Marvel Universe and X-Men Universe films). With the crazy success that Marvel Studios has had with their inter-connected franchise of films (i.e. Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Marvel’s The Avengers, etc.) every Hollywood studio has decided it’s a good idea to think bigger with their franchises to maximize profits. Warner Bros. has started their offensive with DC characters after the success of Man of Steel (2013) and have released a huge slate of films forthcoming until 2018 (for the moment) and Sony has The Amazing Spider-Man (and its sequels and spin-offs) and 20th Century Fox has the X-Men franchise, not to mention the Disney with their Star Wars films. Universal has decided to jump on the band wagon by rebooting all their iconic horror monsters.
Now there has already been a franchise with The Mummy (with 2 sequels and The Scorpion King spin-off films). The Wolfman (2010) remake was less successful but still an update on their character. The Wolfman focused more on horror whereas The Mummy (and Scorpion King) franchises focused more on action and adventure and because of the success of the latter films the new Universal horror films are focusing more on action and adventure and less on horror. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this…yet.
I remember before director Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy (1999), director George A. Romero was developing a horror version of the iconic monster. There are concept drawings and artwork for what could have been an excellent horror film version of The Mummy but all that was dropped in Sommers’ fast paced, CGI-filled film which went more for the Indiana Jones vibe (and for the most part achieved it extremely well). Sommers’ The Mummy was a film safe for the whole family that had action, adventure, comedy, and even a few horrifying moments (mostly before the Mummy is restored to human form). It was a film that became a huge success for Universal who then immediately expanded on the universe with the sequels and spin-off films and even an animated series.
I enjoyed the first film and there are some great moments in the sequel The Mummy Returns (2001). I kind of ignore The Scorpion King franchise but they are more of the same on a smaller budget (of which Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock is only in the first film). After the lukewarm reception of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) the franchise was more or less declared dead. Sommers even tried his hand at resurrecting Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man and Van Helsing in the ill-fated film Van Helsing (2004), which suffered from a poor script in addition to mediocre CGI FX and poorly executed comedy. There are some great action sequences in the film and the Brides of Dracula steal every scene they are in but it’s a film over-stuffed with too many chaotic and unrealized ideas.
The Wolfman was resurrected under the guidance of Benicio del Toro, who has claimed that this was his favorite of the Universal monsters, but this new version didn’t sit well with audiences or critics and died a quick death at the Box Office. For the most part, I enjoyed this film until it relies too much on the CGI werewolves in the third act. The Wolfman contains a lot of action adventure but more importantly plays up the horror more than all The Mummy films combined. I believe this is one of the reasons why there was such a lukewarm reception to the film. I’m sure most audiences were expecting more of The Mummy’s action, adventure and comedy rather than the gothic horror film that was on display.
After The Wolfman failed to jumpstart a new franchise the Universal monsters more or less went back into hiding, again.
Most recently Universal and Legendary Pictures produced Dracula Untold (2014), which takes the Dracula story back to his origins. This was an exciting action-war film that just so happened to have horror overtones in it but little to no humor as it takes the story very seriously. This film was released before Universal released its plans to create an inter-connected universe for their monsters, so, it is really anyone’s guess if this film will actually be interconnected with the upcoming films. Dracula Untold was a financial success and a sequel is in the works so at least for the moment this Dracula is here to stay.
Now why have I delved so deeply into all this background info? Because in order to have a sense of where Universal plans to take their monster universe I have to first take a look back at what they’ve tried to accomplish thus far.
Frankly, I don’t really think there needs to be another Mummy movie at this time but that seems to be the first film they plan on rebooting. The Wolfman just had a film and Dracula (or vampires in general) are all over the place. Personally, I’d rather see them develop a new Creature From the Black Lagoon or Invisible Man or even Frankenstein film since they are characters and monsters that haven’t been revisited to death. I have to commend the studio for trying to do an inter-connected world as it would actually allow audiences to finally see new interpretations of some of their most iconic characters (and thus explore their universe more) but is the world (and more importantly audiences) ready for another universe of characters and films that they need to follow beyond The X-Men, Marvel’s Avengers, Warner Bros. DC, Disney’s Star Wars, and the countless others being developed?
Only time will tell…