The Mummy marks the official launch of Universal’s “Dark Universe” of monsters, borrowing from the shared universe models of Suicide Squad and The Avengers. Ever since Marvel Studios concluded Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by bringing together various superheroes from solo franchises to form The Avengers – and earning more than $1 billion at the box office – the shared universe model has grown increasingly popular in Hollywood. While no other studio or franchise has necessarily copied the model laid out by Marvel Studios (introducing solo characters, then bringing them together for a team-up), Warner Bros. has been building its DC Extended Universe and Fox has continued to expand their X-Men universe with spinoffs from its the main series.
However, the idea of a shared universe has expanded beyond superhero movies. After Transformers: Age of Extinction wasn’t as well-received as previous installments of Paramount’s Robots in Disguise series, the studio announced they were turning the Transformers franchise into a cinematic universe. Paramount assembled a writer’s room to come up with a host of stories, which are being turned into Transformers: The Last Knight and the solo Bumblebee movie. Another high-profile shared universe that’s been in the works for a few years is Universal’s world of classic movie monsters, which was recently officially unveiled as the studio’s Dark Universe.
Although it was thought the Dark Universe would launch with Dracula Untold in 2014, in the wake of that film’s disappointing reviews and box office earnings, Universal announced Luke Evans’ iconic vampire would not be part of the studio’s budding shared universe. Instead, Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy officially launches the Dark Universe that will continue with Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein – the star of which has yet to be cast, though Angelina Jolie was being eyed for the role – and eventually include films for Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem’s Frankenstein’s Monster. The Dark Universe will also add Van Helsing, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Kurtzman revealed there are plans to bring in the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera in coming years.
In terms of specifically how The Mummy sets up the larger Dark Universe, Kurtzman’s film introduces Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll (as well as his alter-ego Mr. Eddie Hyde) and the organization he heads called Prodigium, which is positioned to be the common thread among all the shared universe installments. Though the specifics of the private organization are unclear, Dr. Jekyll lays out their intentions to research, hunt, and eradicate evil from the world. Jekyll even goes into a theory that evil itself is a pathogen and, if that’s the case, it must have a cure – which, of course, ties into his own condition.
The biggest Dark Universe tease in The Mummy, however, arrives in the final scenes. After Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton willingly accepts the Egyptian god of death, Set, into himself, he kills the mummified Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) – who had previously been positioned as the Dark Universe’s Mummy character – and essentially becomes Universal’s modern Mummy. Then, in a final voiceover conversation between Jekyll and Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they discuss that Cruise’s character is now half man, half monster, with Nick forced to constantly battle the evil Set within himself. And, as Jekyll teases, one day Prodigium may need a monster to fight another monster.
The Mummy’s ending – particularly Jekyll commenting that Prodigium will need Cruise’s new Mummy to battle a force of evil later on – is strikingly similar to S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury’s recruitment speech to Tony Stark in the post-credits scene of Marvel Studios’ Iron Man, which laid the groundwork for not only The Avengers but the entire MCU. The implication of Jekyll’s comment is that the Mummy will return within Universal’s Dark Universe, but not necessarily in a direct sequel. Since we know this is a shared universe of classic monsters, and Prodigium will be the thread tying them all together (as S.H.I.E.L.D. was in Phase 1 of the MCU), Kurtzman’s film is setting the stage for The Mummy to return in the Dark Universe as an anti-hero fighting against a bigger evil.
At this point, it’s not exactly clear where the Dark Universe is headed. Universal has so far only confirmed a handful of solo films, and comments from franchise producer Chris Morgan indicated each monster reboot is a “standalone” entry in the series, though they are interconnected. Given the parallels between the ending of The Mummy and the post-credits scene from Iron Man, it seems as though future Dark Universe installments may be origin stories for the various characters, and the rebooted classic monsters will assemble one day for some kind of team-up.
Not only does this mirror the model of a shared universe laid out by the MCU, the concept of a team of villains joining together at the behest of an organization working to fight evil is reminiscent of Warner Bros’ DCEU entry Suicide Squad. And, in fact, if the Dark Universe continues to establish each of its monster characters as conflicted anti-heroes like Cruise’s Mummy, Universal’s shared universe is poised to become a more longform version of the DCEU’s villain team-up. There’s even an argument to be made, if one was so inclined, that there are broad similarities between Cruise’s character and June Moon/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) – they’re both interested in exploring historical sites and become possessed by forces of ancient evil that give them unimaginable powers, after all. (Whether that makes Dr. Jekyll the Dark Universe’s Deadshot or Amanda Waller is up for debate.)
Of course, based on the characters already confirmed to appear in Universal’s Dark Universe, there’s also a comparison to be made between the burgeoning shared cinematic world and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The comic series created by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill sees a number of literary characters team up to battle evil, and was adapted to the big screen in the 2003 movie of the same name. Dr. Jekyll and the Invisible Man are the most obvious characters that appear in both the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Dark Universe, but if Universal reboots Dracula again, the studio could potentially introduce Mina Harker, a character from Bram Stoker’s original novel who is a member of the League. Mina Harker did appear in the present scene at the end of Dracula Untold, so it would seem Universal does have plans to introduce the character in the Dark Universe.
So, if Universal’s shared universe brings its anti-heroes together, they could become a modern live-action version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though it should be noted that 20th Century Fox owns the movie rights to Moore and O’Neill’s comic series. The studio even hinted at a potential reboot of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as recently as 2015. Still, the Dark Universe isn’t exactly the same as the League (which is a good thing considering Universal is already facing a potential lawsuit from Warner Bros over the Dark Universe title), though the concepts may be similar.
All this is to say, Universal’s Dark Universe seems to be borrowing aspects of other shared universes to construct its new monster-focused reboots, which may be what winds up weighing the franchise down. Early reviews for The Mummy indicate the franchise isn’t bringing anything fresh to Hollywood or the now incredibly popular business of shared universes. Instead, the method of picking and choosing from what has worked before (though some would argue Suicide Squad didn’t necessarily work very well as a standalone film), is obvious to moviegoers who have been showing up for shared universe installments for almost a decade.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe may be the gold standard of shared universes, other studios deliberately haven’t replicated it exactly. Instead, Warner Bros, Fox, and Paramount have built their cinematic worlds in ways that make sense for their characters and brings something new to the table. Although it may still be too early to truly know where Universal’s Dark Universe is headed, the blatant teaser at the end of The Mummy sets the stage for a shared universe with inspirations from The Avengers and Suicide Squad. However, without offering much of a different spin on those concepts aside from the use of classic movie monsters rather than superheroes, it remains to be seen if Universal’s Dark Universe will actually be able to rival the MCU and DCEU.