Despite having arguably created the 'cinematic universe' with a horde of monster movies that spanned an amazing thirty years stretching from 1930 until 1960, it seems that just like with DC and Warner Bros., that Universal Pictures are struggling to create their own universe of movies. Following the sub-par success of Dracula Untold and the quite frankly dismal performance of this summers The Mummy, the studio announced earlier this month that its next 'Dark Universe' movie, director Bill Condon's Bride of Frankenstein has been delayed, with screenwriter David Koepp reportedly rewriting the movie's script. Following Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella's less than inspiring rendition of The Mummy, Universal Pictures hopes to bring monster movie fans Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's creature, Angelina Jolie as his bride and Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man, with further plans for adaptations of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Van Helsing, the Wolf Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and another attempt at a Dracula movie.
To be bluntly honest it is no surprise that Universals Dark Universe is in trouble, as just from a glance there are three glaring problems with their planned shared universe. The first problem is that the studio is trying to run a marathon before they have learned to crawl. The MCU was built on the success of its first movies, namely Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and was incrementally added to over the years. Yet Universal are planning to follow what is without a doubt the worst big screen adaptation of The Mummy with nine movies. The second issue is that the director and producer of this summers butchering of The Mummy, Alex Kurtzman, is involved in every single one of these movies. A regular collaborator with J. J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman has written and produced some of the most heavily criticized movies of the past twelve years including the Star Trek reboot sequels, the Transformers movies, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The third and final reason the Dark Universe is suffering is that it is pandering to the current trend that every rebooted property has to be genderswapped. We needed a female mummy no more than we need a female RoboCop or a female Top Gun, even if it is a matter of time before either become a reality.
If Universal Pictures wants to seriously develop a successful Dark Universe the first two actions the studio must take are clear. Firstly the studio needs to fire Kurtzman and reassess their plans, from which they should then devise, develop and produce a handful of foundation movies upon which all subsequent movies can then be built upon. To achieve this foundation Universal need to establish the Dark Universes main players, which should be characters such as Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein's creature, The Mummy, and Dr. Jekyll. Movies such as the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon are lower tier characters that should be introduced later in the Dark Universe, once it has been established and proved to be commercially successful.
To help connect each of these monster properties an anti-monster set of heroes needs to be established, similar to The Mummy's Prodigium, but with, obviously, an easier to pronounce name; unfortunately the Bond series has the rights to S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which would have been ideal, but one gets the idea. This organization should be centuries old, and similar in style to the BPRD (Hellboy) and the Watchers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), having protected humankind from monsters since the Imhotep's (The Mummy) burial, and should have links to Van Helsing, the Knights Templar, and the Vatican. This organization would also likely use a mix of modern, advanced and 'traditional' monster hunting technologies, drawing on inspiration from other successful properties such as Supernatural, Grimm, and Constantine. With the monster villains providing the chills and the heroes providing the thrills, all that is required is to reintroduce fans to each monster origins, while working toward a modern-day ensemble event that puts humankind at risk.
As for the genre styling of the series one could argue that the movies would suit an action based narrative, but regardless of the direction the studio chooses the source material has to be respected and Universals universe needs to live up to its name and be Dark, honoring its horror and gothic origins, and the philosophical questions raised by the works of the original authors Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stephenson (amongst others). Frankenstein should explore elements such as creationism vs evolution, Dracula should explore faith, loyalty, and betrayal, while Dr. Jekyll should explore the savagery of human nature. These elements need not be at the forefront of the narrative of their respective movies, but should at the very least be inferred, giving audiences deeper portrayals of the people these monsters once were before they became the deathly threats they have since become.
A truly dark, mature, and faithful adaptation of each monsters story that takes cues from similar themed properties of the past thirty years adapted for the big screen using some of Hollywoods greatest acting and directing talents to create a cohesive and eclectic universe could allow audiences to escape from the overbearing action movie mash-ups being offered by the MCU and DCEU, and years from now could see Universal Pictures reclaim the crown of the shared cinematic universe they created almost ninety years ago.