THE CURSE OF THE PREMATURELY SHARED UNIVERSE AND A CHRONIC LACK OF INNOVATION
The Mummy flopped, it seems. So what did go so horribly wrong? That is a question resonating throughout the universe right now. I mean, it should have worked, right? An ancient deity with evil powers and female form tries to take control of London: a GREAT pitch..should have worked by a landslide, right? OK, enough about that #UKELECTION. 😉
Back to THE MUMMY. You see, all the elements were in the right place for this to be a respectable success of sorts. It’s just that they were put together in the wrong order as it were and thereby disappointed everyone, despite the fact that the obvious pitfalls were staring everyone in the face from day one. This is a curse of complacency at the very heart of the Hollywood machine, rivaling anything that could be offered by an ancient Egyptian monster.
Let’s unravel the mystery, shall we…point by point..
ONE FOR ME, ONE FOR THEM
Tom Cruise is still a star. There is no qualification on that. But he lost sight of the fact that key to his appeal in blockbuster movies was at least PARTLY that he was not simply a sequel machine. It has taken over 30 years to get us that TOP GUN sequel (entering production next year).
And, whilst he did indeed launch a franchise in MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, that was his concession to the market patterns rather than his sole method as a film actor/producer. Generally speaking, the man flexed his acting muscles between stints on the bigger blockbusters.
For every M:I-2, we had a MAGNOLIA and so on. And whilst he has been rediscovering that method it seems with the slightly more ballsy AMERICAN MADE, there had been an inadequate break between ROGUE NATION(2015) and THE MUMMY, save the disposable JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (very few did, as it happens!).
So, one franchise simply blended to the other, even incorporating a seemingly identical plane based action sequence and London as main location. In turn, it seemed one was simply getting a generic ‘TOM CRUISE’ film, with TOM CRUISE playing TOM CRUISE in a TOM CRUISE RUNNING THROUGH LONDON movie. In short: a glaringly missed opportunity to fuse some of Tom’s darker toned work (COLLATERAL, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE) to his now established blockbuster credentials.
Had they made this an actual HORROR movie, with ‘stakes’ (yes pun intended for vampire references), and had Tom flash some of his scarier shades of smile and maybe a family in jeopardy motif (he excels there: THE FIRM / WAR OF THE WORLDS)..then this COULD have worked. They didn’t do that. So the film did not work.
IF YOU MUST RIP OFF INDIANA JONES..
..DON’T make it a carbon copy! You see, The Indiana Jones movies are an inspiration for this year’s MUMMY, just as they were reference point for 1999’s Brendan Fraser counterpart take on the eponymous Egyptian baddie.
But, and it’s a big but: you MUST offer something NEW! At the very least, a novel energy / aesthetic / editing style and associated good will. You see, it’s not the fact that Indiana Jones was an archaeologist that made him an appealing hero; tomb raiding could have been replaced by just about any profession.
It was the pulp ideal of being both a worldly rogue AND somehow a competent professional academic. Fuse that to Spielberg’s distinctive action choreography and hey presto: one timeless film brand was born, organically.
THAT is why Indiana remains a viable rather than tired brand and yes, we all welcome rather than resent the idea of Harrison Ford taking on a fifth adventure come 2020, despite his advancing years (and no do NOT just stick him on Grandad duties with Chris Pratt or some generic other Chris filling in).
By contrast? This year’s MUMMY feels tired already. They TRY and channel Indiana Jones, by mixing the horror / adventure genres and LITERALLY making Cruise’s hero an ‘obtainer of antiquities’. Ironically enough therefore it is this ‘new’ film that thereby feels far more tired than than 1981’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
So: yes, borrow, even STEAL from the greats. But remember that one cannot steal the quality of innovation itself. TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT makes a similar mistake, with its muddled mythology and needless set pieces in Oxford /London, interchangeable with THE MUMMY and thereby only highlighting the dire absence of inspiration or substance to either product.
STOP ANNOUNCING SHARED UNIVERSES!
People are tired of this nonsense. Seriously. Using entire films as sequel bait? Presuming a franchise starter before the Box Office numbers are in? That shows at best complacency and at worst a kind of loathing for the pesky process of winning /earning audience’s loyalties.
In theory, a series of films with classic monsters interacting should be box office gold, especially given the calibre of actors announced for the roles (Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man; Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Creature; Michael Fassbender being courted for Dracula and so on).
Factor in, also: age old imagery on which Universal Pictures has a kind of visual monopoly (the bolts on Frankenstein’s creature’s neck etc), thereby touching base with both literature and cinema history, rejigged for a comic book cinema ethos.
WIN WIN! Guaranteed results? Maybe and yet not QUITE so fast and simple.
You cannot capture Marvel’s model overnight, as DC/Warners learned. It requires several films and hints within those: each episode self contained, whilst leaving just enough of a plan and foundation for the team up to end all team ups.
So yes: think AVENGERS 1, 2 and soon INFINITY WAR, via constantly developing properties such as SPIDER MAN and now Sony’s crossovers in VENOM and so on. Just avoid any precipitously smug rush / launch / brand expansion.
DC /Warners TRIED to catch up prematurely, thereby leaving the rushed mess of BATMAN V SUPERMAN. But WONDER WOMAN was this summer’s surprise hit and at last, the DC ‘universe’ has EARNED its affection with audiences, thanks to an accomplished stand alone film that nonetheless connects to the other properties.
So, whilst THE MUMMY came with a PLAN for more products, it thereby failed to nurture its own launch point foundation. Once again: an uncomfortable parallel with the UK Election of 2017 😉 .
It’s notable that THE MUMMY lacked quite basic VIRAL content. Just THINK of how easily that COULD have worked : ‘UNRAVEL THE CLUES’ etc? Ok maybe not THAT in your face. But this had ZERO hype of note. Two trailers were safe, familiar, fun but NOTHING new. Far too much given away, too.
So with or without viral content (THE MUMMY had too little, ALIEN COVENANT and even SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING arguably have too much?), there was an absence of anticipation or curiosity and the rushed summer release date compounded matters. Hello a HORROR film?
MAYBE, just MAYBE HALLOWEEN would have been a GOOD idea as release date? It’s not as crowded as summer, it’s thematically appropriate and lends itself well to big scale premiere parties, events and viral marketing content.
Notice that this is NOT a new lesson. Ken Branagh’s painful vanity project, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (1993) also tried injecting ‘sexy’ to the Gothic horror classic brand and whilst they released outside the summer and into the late autumn, even they, back in 1994, missed the OBVIOUS opportunity of a midnight premiere on the feast of the witches. ‘YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED’. 😉
This mess CAN be salvaged. The ‘Dark Universe’ may indeed proceed undeterred by this slightly awkward beginning and heck it may even turn an ok-ish profit. Tom Cruise need not lose any sleep over the matter, with TOP GUN 2 and MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 6 on their way. He’ll recover, reinvent: and THAT is WHY he has been a star in three straight decades and will remain so til the day he runs off our screens towards the next life.
It’s a fair bet however that he may choose to minimise his role in THIS ‘Dark Universe’: he does not need it and neither does it need him. Indeed, if they give the next proposed film (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) a better marketing campaign and more suitable release date, unencumbered by yet propped up still by some star power? Well then there is every chance that it can RISE AGAIN and hold back cinematic death 😉