Ah Dark Universe, we hardly knew ye. Universal Pictures spent years developing a series of reboots of their classic monsters under the direction of Star Trek and Transformers writer/producer Alex Kurtzman and Fast & Furious writer/producer Chris Morgan. The duo oversaw a writers room that developed scripts for movies based on Van Helsing, Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and others, and Kurtzman was personally tending to The Mummy, which he would direct as the first Dark Universe movie.
When it came time to release The Mummy, Universal even dropped an official fanfare logo for Dark Universe and a “cast” photo featuring Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man and Javier Bardem’s Frankenstein’s monster, both of whom had merely been announced for projects that hadn’t even happened yet. It was a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, and it all kinda came crashing down.
Despite Tom Cruise’s best efforts, The Mummy suffered poor reviews and incredibly dismal domestic box office. Indeed, the film grossed only $80 million domestically, although it did perform far better overseas to bring its worldwide total to $409.2 million. Still, that kind of domestic performance is tough to swallow, especially for a film that was meant to serve as the foundation for an interconnected universe of monster movies. The Mummy was to be Universal’s Iron Man, and yet reaction to the film was anything but enthusiastic.
Reports swirled as to what Universal was doing next, and in November 2017 reports surfaced that Kurtzman and Morgan were out and a brand new office building renovated specifically to house Dark Universe was empty. Indeed, in a new interview with THR touting Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Kurtzman confirms he’s no longer involved with the Dark Universe and goes so far as to say he was unhappy with what The Mummy became:
“The Mummy wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I’m no longer involved in that and have no idea what’s going on with it. I look back on it now [and] what felt painful at the time ended up being an incredible blessing for me. I learned that I need to follow my own instincts, and when I can’t fully do that, I don’t think I can succeed. Those films are beautiful because the monsters are broken characters, and we see ourselves in them. I hope those are the movies that they make; I want to see them.”
It is kind of infuriating that as every studio in town is trying to mimic the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal is just sitting on some of the most iconic characters in cinema history. The Mummy tried to turn the titular monster into a superhero origin story rather than leaning into the tragic horror aspect of the character. Indeed, at heart these Universal monsters stories are tragedies. One imagines if Universal could lean in that direction and hire some talented yet singular filmmakers to put their own stamps on the material, we could get something truly great. Even Bride of Frankenstein seemed to be on the right track with Bill Condon directing a feminist twist on the story with Angelina Jolie in the lead role, but after The Mummy‘s disappointment that film was scrapped.
Kurtzman, meanwhile, has returned to TV and seems fairly happy to be back. He cut his teeth on shows like Alias and Xena: Warrior Princess and he’s now serving as showrunner on Star Trek: Discovery following the ousting of Season 1’s showrunners, as well as overseeing a whole host of new Trek shows on CBS All Access. The filmmaker doesn’t elaborate on who he blames for The Mummy not being what he “wanted it to be,” but he certainly did his part to promote the film as-is during its marketing campaign.
Perhaps someday soon Universal will enlist exciting horror filmmakers like Ari Aster or Jennifer Kent or Jordan Peele to come play in the monsters sandbox. For now, the Dark Universe rests.