The Mummy, a film starring one of America's favorite leading men, Tom Cruise, is currently hovering at under $200 million. Worldwide.
Wellllllp. Time to regroup, gang.
To be honest, though, I'm not sure there's anything to be said about The Mummy's missteps that hasn't been making its way all over every form of social media there is. Someone's probably on Friendster at this very moment talking about how Prodigium took up too much real estate in a movie called The Mummy. It's been done, is what I'm saying.
However! There is another Universal movie that came out within the 21st century that attempted to build a shared universe that I think is far more ripe for analysis: 2004's Van Helsing.
Yes, the Hugh Jackman one. Did you think I forgot about that movie?
Well, I didn't. In fact, I just re-watched Van Helsing the other day, and to be honest, it's such an "everything and the kitchen sink" kind of monster mash that I think there's TONS to be learned from it, both good and not-so-good, for Universal's Dark Universe movies moving forward.
But let's say you've never seen Van Helsing. Maybe you were born in 2004, which would make you ... holy hell, you're a teenager. Welcome to puberty, you poor, poor soul. Let me soothe your weary days of pimples and bad takes on Twitter with some monster movie knowledge.
WHAT THE @#$! IS A VAN HELSING
Well, in addition to being the dude who usually fights Dracula, a Zenescope comic and a Syfy TV series, Van Helsing is a 2004 film starring Hugh Jackman as, you guessed it, Van Helsing. It also stars Kate Beckinsale as not a vampire for once, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, Igor, a couple vampire wives and some wolf men, even.
Yup. They really went for it.
The gist of the plot is: Van Helsing is a monster hunter with some missing memories who has to go to Translyvania to help its citizenry (including Beckinsale) fight Dracula, who, it turns out, is trying to learn Dr. Frankenstein's techniques (along with the aide of the Wolf Man) in order to birth an army of bat minions and take over the world. You know: that old story.
Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but even though there was never a continuation, there's still a lot to learn from Van Helsing's bold experiment.
Here's some dos and don'ts I've come up with loosely based upon the very real events from Van Helsing.
DO: LEAN IN ON THAT CLASSIC UNIVERSAL BLACK AND WHITE
Van Helsing's opening is a flashback sequence done all in black and white. To be honest, it would be cool to see an entire modern Universal monster movie done in black and white, but provided there's a narrative purpose behind it, I think having a black and white sequence is aesthetically pleasing, evocative and fun.
I think at this point pretty much everyone knows that these franchises are super old. I don't think you can outrun that. If anything, this is an opportunity to embrace and pay homage to some of the most classic films ever made, genre or otherwise.
DON'T: INTRODUCE UNNECESSARY ICONIC CHARACTERS AS FODDER
The Mummy and Van Helsing have an unexpected someone in common: Mr. Hyde. While The Mummy prominently features Jekyll, Van Helsing introduces a hulking, CGI Hyde for an opening battle sequence just to point out how tough and edgy Van Helsing is. I don't know if I'd call Hyde's appearance in Van Helsing worse than the way his part in The Mummy so thoroughly derailed its own story.
They do kill Hyde, though. At the beginning. Because they could, I guess? It was not helpful for world-building, and Van Helsing could've killed plenty of monster-adjacent creatures to get across the idea that he's super edgy. Let's just meet in the middle and have Mr. Hyde have his own movie and show up for, like, part of an act in some of the other Dark Universe stuff, cool?
Seriously, though, why is Hyde the go-to? That's weird, right?
DO: GIVE MONSTERS A PERSONALITY
Frankenstein's Monster has definitely had occasion to be a tragic figure you're meant to pity, but I think Van Helsing has one of the best takes on the Monster ever. Not only does he have a really cool look (I like the exposed brain, especially) but he's really just an undead dude trying to live his undead life while people mess with him. Whether it's pitchfork-wielding villagers or Dracula getting up in Big Frankie's business, the dude is only looking for one thing: to be treated as a human deserving respect.
Likewise, Dracula's wives get some real personality, too, which I feel is almost entirely unheard of in the history of Universal movies. Sure, they are mostly subservient to Dracula, but each of the three women has her own personality, they each fight in their own way and they have some incredibly cool monster designs and costumes.
I wish Ahmanet had been granted even half the personality that Dracula's wives have in Van Helsing.
DON'T: GO TOO OVER-THE-TOP WITH THE PERFORMANCES
There is a line for campiness, and Richard Roxburgh as Dracula crosses it so far that he might as well be in another movie. He's just so darn shouty. And when he's not shouting, he's mugging, and when he's not mugging, he's a giant CGI bat monster. I'm not saying you need to be super moderate with your monster movies, but there's a point at which Dracula departs Transylvania on a midnight train to Self-Parody ... vania. That is unnecessary. Dracula can have feelings, too, beyond the feeling that he wants to chew the scenery.
DO: WEREWOLVES, WEREWOLVES, WEREWOLVES
I feel like this kind of explains itself. There are three different werewolves over the course of Van Helsing. 13-year-old spoiler: Van Helsing is one of the werewolves.
All things are better with werewolves.
DON'T: WITH THE BATTLE CORSETS ALREADY, HOLY JEEZ
I get it: y'all like Kate Beckinsale's waistline. But if you love it so much, why are you trying to crush my girl's ribs to powder? When I use the term "battle corset" I am being very generous. What she's wearing doesn't seem so much battle-ready as it does sex-dungeon-ready. And the bolero jacket doesn't seem like much of a vamp repellant either.
Plus, Beckinsale also gets put in a corseted dress by Dracula. Naturally, she wants out of it ... so it's right back into the BATTLE CORSET because who needs OXYGEN! Cough, cough, wheeze. Sorry, I have asthma. And am wearing a battle corset.
Unrelated: Beckinsale winds up dead and in a cloud at the end of the movie, so let's just say the female hero schtick in the Dark Universe needs work in general.
DO: HAVE SOME QUALITY COMIC RELIEF
The two best characters in the sum entirety of Van Helsing are, without question, Van Helsing's assistant, Carl, and Dracula's assistant, Igor. Carl is the goofy smart guy who gets dragged into the fight and somehow makes it out okay. Also, he trades day-saving for some love-making, and it's all very consensual and funny so two thumbs up there!
Igor, though, is the true highlight as the sassy friend that every vampire lord needs, I feel. He works for Dr. Frankenstein at first, but basically sees the writing on the wall when Dracula shows up and is literally like, "the dark lord pays better, sorry." I like that the makeup team didn't go halfway on him either. Igor is pretty hideous physically so I know his sharp personality and wit are on point because I'm hot for him anyway. Call me. Maybe we can find you a gig with dental next time.
DON'T: GO NUTS WITH THE BACKSTORY
Van Helsing doesn't have his whole memory. Cool, cool. That could be interesting. Oh, wait, he's known Dracula for a while? Rad. How long? Oh ... Van Helsing is the archangel Gabriel, I see, I see.
That's too much. Rein it in, Van Helsing.
We couldn't have known that Supernatural was going to spend, like, 10 seasons on Judeo-Christian mythology, thus ruining it for everyone, but that has happened, so ... just maybe leave the monotheistic deity stuff to the side for future Universal endeavors? It's played and hard to not seem weirdly out of pace with everything else going on what with green monsters and wolf dudes.
All right, I think that ought to do it. I would say, by all means, you should watch Van Helsing if you haven't or it's been a while. It's ridiculous. Again, Kate Beckinsale is a head in a cloud at the end and there is a wolf vs. bat fight. But at least half of that is a selling point.
And, fellow Universal people with more authority than I, take note: I am very funny and also my opinions are good. I worded well here today and you should listen to me. More Igors, less conspiratorial secret societies.