In an age where superhero franchises are at a premium, Universal has zero (although, for all intents and purposes, the Fast & Furious franchise may as well be a superhero series). All the DC superheroes belong to Warner Bros. and the Marvel superheroes are split between Fox (X-Men and Fantastic Four), Sony (Spider-Man), and Disney (everything else). Studios need blockbuster franchises for tentpoles, and as The Mummy shows, the upcoming Dark Universe isn’t just an attempt to have crossovers with monsters. It’s probably how Universal plans to do superheroes.
[Spoilers ahead for The Mummy]
For most of The Mummy, the eponymous character is Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and she looks the part. She’s wrapped in bandages, uses dark magic, can create sandstorms, etc. But at the end of the movie, soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) stabs himself with Set’s magical dagger, which then gives him the power of Set, i.e. the powers of the Mummy. He kisses Ahmanet, turning her into a withered husk, and then uses his newfound powers to raise Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) from the dead. From the shadows, he tells her he can’t be with her and then disappears.
In the final scene, Nick is teamed up with a newly alive Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), and they ride off into the distance on their motorcycles, a huge plume of sand coming from behind Nick’s bike to show off his newfound power while Dr. Jekyll’s (Russell Crowe) voice over tells us about how Nick has the power to defeat evil.
So in the end, The Mummy isn’t Ahmanet. It’s Nick, and if Dark Universe moves forward and crosses over its characters, then Mummy Nick is going to have superpowers.
And that’s where Dark Universe starts to make sense. If you think of it as just a bunch of monsters crossing over or a way to revitalize classic monsters, it’s confusing because so much of what made those old movies great were their designs and their aesthetic, neither of which could be replicated today, especially for tentpole blockbusters. But if you look at Dark Universe as the start of a superhero franchise where each member has special powers that can be used to defeat something, then it makes a lot more sense.
If you look at the other monsters not as figures designed to frighten or terrorize but as characters with powers, Dark Universe makes more sense with Prodigium as the hub and Dr. Jekyll as the Nick Fury figure that coordinates the fight against evil. From there, you can easily see how other monsters like Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, and others could contribute into something along the lines of “Suicide Squad but with monsters.” The idea here is that yeah, everyone here has dangerous powers, but they’re using them to fight a greater evil.
Will that work going forward? It’s tough to say. Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein, the next movie in the Dark Universe, has a tougher task than The Mummy because its main character doesn’t have any special powers that we know about, although those can always be added since Bride isn’t really the main character of her original movie anyway. Bride of Frankenstein could give us a firmer sense of where the larger Dark Universe is headed, but the ending of The Mummy gives a pretty clear sense that these monsters aren’t being chosen for the horror they inspire, but for the powers they possess.