Wonder Woman Disproves The Mummy Dark Universe Skeptics

The poster for 'The Mummy,' out in theaters June 9, 2017.
The poster for 'The Mummy,' out in theaters June 9, 2017. Universal Studios

Critics hate The Mummy. And the trailers didn’t seem to do much for ticket-buyers either: it’s expected to lose the weekend to Wonder Woman. No matter how much Tom Cruise Tom Cruise brings — many reviews say a very Cruise-y Cruise is one of the movie’s few upsides — The Mummy is unlikely to have us clamoring for sequels, let alone spin-offs. Just like Dracula Untold, Universal Studio’s first attempt at force-feeding the culture a fully-formed, sprawling, multi-series franchise, The Mummy won’t be the Dark Universe kickoff they wanted. But Wonder Woman shows how little that matters.

With The Mummy as extra ammunition, Dark Universe skepticism is near universal in movie reporting. The onrushing brand extension — planned to include remakes or mashups of Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, united by Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, head of the Prodigium monster hunting organization — is said to “ reflect the problem with Hollywood’s franchise machine.” The more hopeful declare the Dark Universe “ dead on arrival.”

The reasons to wish the Dark Universe ill-health are numerous. Remakes, particularly of beloved movies like Bride of Frankenstein and most of the rest of Dark Universe wishlist, are almost always a bad decision, especially if the plan is to mechanize stately, characterful horror movies into vague, action-adventure, people-make-smirky-jokes-in-dangerous-situations movies. Media people who pay too much attention to movie news resent the advanced planning that either presumes upon our goodwill or assumes a winning weekend box office figure can be bought with a big enough marketing budget plus China. And everyone hates feeling like they just paid $17 to watch a commercial for more movies. As Dr. Jekyll tells us, indifferent to our protests that we’re just here for a mummy, “welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”

It’s easy to find critiques of Marvel Studios and Disney’s Star Wars approach to franchise building, but there’s also goodwill built over multiple well-liked movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But anyone presuming that The Mummy will hurt the Dark Universes chances need only look at the rollout of the DC comic book movies, beginning with two of the worst movies ever made, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.

Despite a downright poisonous franchise, plagued with rumors that its biggest tentpole maneuver, Justice League, shit all the beds, all it took was one good movie to resurrect the franchise. Wonder Woman was not only a critical and box office hit, it inspired movie writer after movie writer to declare the DC Comics series justified and partially salvaged.

Though the franchise model justly deserves skepticism — it tends to produce dull movies and crush genuine artistry into branded paste — there’s a large portion of the critiques leveled against the Dark Universe that themselves buy into the underlying assumption of the franchise model: that they are to be evaluated as a massive, multi-movie experience, doled out, transaction by transaction, over years and decades. Simply in tying the fate of The Mummy so close to that of the Dark Universe, we’ve submitted to the studio mentality that prefers brands over films.

Wonder Woman shows the truth of it: people like to watch good movies. Most people don’t want to feel beholden to a series universe of characters and interlocked bullshit, except Star Wars novel readers. Most of us want to see the good ones and skip the bad ones; to feel like it’s okay that we missed Doctor Strange (and boy is it okay, that movie is boring). The Dark Universe may be a dumb idea, but if it makes two garbage movies and then by some miracle gives us a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake worthy of Island of the Fishmen, then we’ll celebrate that movie and forget the rest. Franchises suck, but let’s not forget, in our justified anger at the soullessness of corporate movie-making, that each movie is its own movie. And sometimes they’re good.

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