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The ‘Dark Monsters’ in the world of superheroes

The ‘Dark Monsters’ in the world of superheroes

By Poojil Tiwari

Universal Studios is the latest in line to jump on the bandwagon of creating a ‘Cinematic Universe’ with its new flick, The Mummy. In a surprising turn of events, this much-anticipated movie starring Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise crashed at the North American box office. Questions have been raised about whether the ‘Dark Monsters’ can compete in a world currently dominated by Marvel and DC superheroes.

What went wrong with The Mummy?

Panned by the critics, The Mummy suffers from a horror movie’s worst nightmare: it was just not scary enough. The movie relies too heavily on the star power of Tom Cruise and the pre-existing fascination with classic horror, none of which compensate for the lack of an engaging storyline. It adds nothing new to a character that has already been heavily exploited by the movie industry. Moreover, if collections are to be analysed, the attempt to market the movie as the first instalment of an overarching franchise where the characters interact, has been a dead end.

While the Universal distribution executives have acknowledged the less than satisfactory opening of their ‘Dark Universe’ pilot, the studio has given no indication of shelving the project. The studio has already signed on Bill Condon to direct the second instalment of the franchise, Bride of Frankenstein. Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem have also signed up to play the Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s monster respectively. However, the road ahead is fraught with challenges. As Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore points out: “The Mummy opening showed the challenge of launching a franchise with North American audiences, who are more deterred by bad reviews.”

The Marvel conundrum

If Universal wants its franchise to succeed, they have to crack the Marvel conundrum. Needless to say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen unprecedented success with their Avengers series, simultaneously popularising the trend of ‘Cinematic Universes’. However, Marvel does not owe its success solely to a bevy of star names or well established comic book superheroes.

The build up to The Avengers was meticulous, to say the least, with the Cinematic Universe being divided into three phases. Releasing individual superhero movies particularly Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, beforehand created sufficient buzz for their superhero saga: The Avengers.

Furthermore, Joss Whedon’s crisp writing and direction ensured that the viewers remain as invested in a Natasha Romanoff as they would be in an Iron Man. And it definitely helps to have Robert Downey Jr. being your sassy ‘billionaire-playboy-philanthropist-superhero’. An effective marketing strategy has now enabled them to use this success as a launchpad for many remotely related projects such as The Guardians of the Galaxy and revamping Spiderman.

DC is also back in the game

With The Mummy having tanked at the box office, the future of Universal/Comcast Corp’s attempt to revive the Universal Monsters film series as the ‘Dark Universe’ seems grim. Especially, in a world where Marvel seems to have mastered the art of making successful franchise films. After a few initial hiccups with Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad, even DC seems to be back in the game with Wonder Woman.

With Cinematic Universes being the latest trend in Hollywood, studios need to understand that the idea of bringing together big names in an interacting fictional universe has already been done and perfected by Marvel. The only way to keep the audience engaged is a gripping story. Even DC’s Suicide Squad was guilty of being reduced to a movie with an explosive star cast which remained underutilised due to a subpar storyline.

With the roaring success of Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. would have realised that what brings the audience to the theatres is a solid story. Dubbed as “the first feminist superhero film”, Wonder Woman is as much a social success as it is a cultural one. Warner Bros. is guaranteed to capitalise on its latest success and go in all guns blazing when they release DC’s The Justice League in November 2017.

What is next for Universal?

Universal needs to rethink their strategy. It goes without saying that the writing needs to be sharper. Universal’s classic horror has been around since the 1920s. The stories of Dracula or Frankenstein have been told many times. To make the ‘Dark Monsters’ Universe more engaging, Universal has to identify what more it can do with these well-known stories. Additionally, the studio needs to strike a balance when it comes to portraying various characters. Ironically, The Mummy was guilty of not giving enough screen time to its titular character, instead choosing to focus more on Tom Cruise, thus making it largely uninteresting.

The task is cut out for Universal. Marvel has already increased the stakes with their brilliant storytelling, DC is steadily catching up. There is a steady influx of competition with Paramount planning a ‘Transformers Universe’, and Men in Black and Jump Street collaborating to create their own fictional universe. Thus, the ‘Dark Monsters’ need to up their game if they wish to pose a threat.

Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

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