With The Mummy just around the corner, a whole new franchise is rearing its monstrous head while Universal seeks to expand its reach… but do we even want more franchises in the already crowded movie listings?
The Mummy is the first of Universal’s upcoming franchise, Universal Monsters; a series of films that are intended to, in Universal’s words, “take [the classic horror stories] out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and reimagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience.”
In a way, Universal Monsters doesn’t really come as a surprise. With reboots and remakes taking over the film industry, and the MCU, Star Wars and X-Men making huge numbers from longtime loyal fandoms, statistics point favorably towards new franchises. In the same interview, back in 2014, Universal said “We’re in the franchise game (…). So, we’ll continue to do that (…) to the point where we’re making 4 or 5 of those franchises per year.”
And it’s clearly not only studio heads thinking this up, although Universal has been very successful with film series like Transformers — which keeps churning out new movies even when, for all appearances, there’s nothing left to write about. Interconnected films that build up to crossovers and spin-offs have become money-making machines, to the point that even filmmakers like M. Night. Shyamalan have considered moving towards this framework.
But it’s one thing to tackle stories with a source material that already overlaps with itself — as is the case with the Avengers, or the Justice League. It’s quite another to force different premises together, bringing in classic stories from vastly different authors and/or filmmakers to make an ensemble movie out of them.
In the case of Universal Monsters, we find ourselves wondering if any of this is really necessary. The Mummy does seem to have potential, although it may be lacking much of the charm and intensity of the original first movie. The prospect of a Van Helsing remake might be interesting, and although yet another Frankenstein feels unnecessary, Creature from the Black Lagoon sounds like a creepy enough premise to be fun. But do all of these movies have to be related to each other? Do they actually benefit from being interconnected?
A franchise requires a certain tone; a pace and style that although not identical across all the films in the series, still keeps you aware that you’re treading that fandom’s territory. It has a comfortable feel to it, and a canon that builds on itself as you go. And this atmosphere doesn’t necessarily work for all genres. Monster movies, for example, aren’t designed to feel comfortable and familiar; and when you model a series of movies in pursuit of an already-existing franchise’s success, you run the risk of creating a watered-down version that brings nothing new to the table.
Especially with movies that are so rooted in specific time periods and styles, trying to distill it to fit into a larger story arc doesn’t feel genuine; in some ways, it even stifles the creativity that a standalone film could have. The original Mummy was good because it was immersive and unexpected. There’s was a certain intricacy to setting, pacing, music and plot that benefited from the expectation of it being a standalone film, instead of being weighed down with the promise of future movies.
The fact is, ensemble movies are hard enough to do even when there is a background ready for them. They’re tricky to pull off. And audiences are already investing in so many franchises at the moment that it often feels like we’re spread out thin trying to catch everything when it comes to theaters. In some cases, we lose track of which movie is which and actually miss their release. Add to that the ever-expanding arena of TV shows and online content, and audiences have very little attention to spare on a huge franchise that may not be able to measure up to its source material.
A new standalone Mummy would be much more exciting than the beginning of a film series; there would be more at stake, and more care and detail put into the message of the story itself. We miss good movies; and it’s very hard to make a good movie when you’re just trying to build a foundation for more to come.
What makes the powerful franchises today so powerful, is that their source material had heart and was already set up to be long; it’s a work of many decades, the product of carefully-crafted movies lovingly put together. And if you can’t make great movies to begin with, you have no business aiming for a collection of them.
Unfortunately, this franchise trend is becoming more and more prominent. It is possible that Universal Monsters will be excellent and convincing — although so far, The Mummy looks like a typical paranormal-action movie — but it’s extremely likely that it won’t be the last of its kind: a streamlining of storylines and talent for the benefit of the box office.
Sometimes, we just want to go to theaters and watch a good movie. No sequels, no prequels, no crossovers. Not everything has to become a franchise… in fact, some stories might benefit more from standing alone.