While Universal is publicly touting that The Mummy is the beginning of their "Dark Universe" series of interconnected horror films, that wasn't always the case - originally, the film meant to kick off the monster-ized MCU-knockoff was 2014's Dracula Untold.
Beyond having an incredibly stupid title ("Untold"? Was Dracula told before and someone undid that?), the film itself was something of a mess - portraying Dracula as a heroic figure in a generic, barely-coherent story that would make Paul WS Anderson shake his head in dismay. But Universal thought they really had something on their hands with the film - something that could launch a horror-action shared universe (sorta like their previous attempt - Van Helsing), and opted to make a big deal out of how this would be their Iron Man, to the degree they even went through some reshoots to make sure it would be able to fit in to what they had planned next. Everything was looking up! And then, uh, the movie actually came out.
Dracula Untold landed with a thud at the box office and generated next to no enthusiasm from audiences whatsoever. In other words, it was not the breakout hit that would have fans clamoring for more that they needed it to be - so instead of launching a new universe, the studio quietly underplayed the film and pretended like it didn't exist.
They would try again, and NEXT time, they would get it right!
Quick: what's the ONE thing in the Universal horror series that VERY RECENTLY had a hugely popular franchise with a beloved main character? Frankenstein? Nope. The Invisible Man? Nope. The Wolfman? There was that Benicio del Toro one, but no one liked it much.
The answer (which you definitely already guessed) is The Mummy, which had two VERY popular movies about 15 years and (and one not-so-popular third film about 10 years ago). The Mummy (the first one, at least) still holds up as a fun, pretty great Indiana Jones knockoff - and its just hitting that nostalgic sweet spot online where people who saw (and loved) the movie when they were younger are the most dominant voice online. And what does the internet hate more than anything else? Remaking beloved properties with no input or involvement with anyone from the original.
So when the first poster and trailer dropped for the Tom Cruise-starring Mummy film, the internet did not respond the way Universal had intended them to: they didn't get pumped for a new Tom Cruise movie, or the prospect of a horror-themed shared universe - instead, all they did was get super mad that there was a reboot of The Mummy that didn't include Brendan Fraser.
Twitter and comment sections across Youtube and Facebook were awash with complaints that this was a full frontal assault on the good name of Brendan Fraser (and a few about how weird Tom Cruise's scream sounded). No one was excited for the film itself - just mad at what the film represented: a Hollywood that didn't give a crap about your nostalgia.
Here's just a TINY sample of the comments on the first trailer on Youtube:
And then there were editorials, Change.org petitions, and a nonstop flood of posts across social media complaining about the film's mere existence. What a great way to launch your new film universe!
Of course, complaining about a movie because of its association with an old favorite really isn't fair to the new film, especially because even the old Brendan Fraser film was a reboot of the property, so shouldn't this one be judged on its own terms as well?
So let's judge it on its own terms: it doesn't look good. And there's a good reason it doesn't look good - and it has nothing to do with the absence of Brendan Fraser or the fact that it represents Universal trying to launch a film universe before they even have one popular film out the gate. The reason it sucks is the person who had creative control of the film - and, as such, was setting the stage and tone for the entire shared universe. That person is Alex Kurtzman.
Nerds will know the name Alex Kurtzman well - he's the individual responsible for some of the most painful moments in geek-centered film franchises from the past decade, responsible for the Transformers franchise, the Star Trek reboot (except for Star Trek Beyond, which coincidentally was the best one), and the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films. Not to say he's responsible for ONLY bad things (he was a creator and producer on Fringe!), but the bad stuff he's written has mostly been big budget franchise blockbuster films. And - for some reason - Universal decided that THIS guy should be the head creative on their new multi-film universe.
Probably not the wisest move.
I truly believe the MCU's success has momentarily ruined many studios and potential franchises - other studios saw Marvel Studios' success with a bold new approach to franchise-filmmaking, and thought: "We should be doing that too!" But, of course, they didn't have the patience Marvel had - starting with one or two standalone films, that sliiiightly hinted at a larger expanded universe without making any explicit promises or anything - and waiting to hear the audience reaction before laying out ambitious plans. And the reaction to 2008's Iron Man was enormous - a previously barely-recognized B-tier character was elevated to one of the most iconic characters in superherodom thanks to a surprisingly-fun film and an incredible piece of casting with Robert Downey Jr. It was such an explosive debut, it alone pretty much justified Kevin Feige's goals to create the MCU and bring it all together with The Avengers.
But no one else has the time for that - to test the waters and make fun, engaging standalone films before committing to something bigger. They want what Marvel already has - a dedicated fanbase clamoring to see a variety of interconnected franchises that gross billions of dollars. And they took the absolute wrongest lesson possible from the MCU - they think that the thing people are interested in is the interconnected universe. And that's the stupidest thing possible.
The interconnected universe is definitely appealing - but the REASON it's appealing is that Marvel first created a bunch of fun, likable characters that we were invested in. Why would we care about Tony Stark fighting Steve Rogers unless we've had a chance to spend a few films with the two of them, learning to understand them as individuals and their relationship? The answer is that we wouldn't, at all. And Universal is making the same mistake DC Films made before them, focusing on the universe and planned franchises before they have even ONE successful film out.
Prior to the release of The Mummy, Universal made a big press announcement, formalizing their "Dark Universe" - starring Tom Cruise as Mummy-Puncher, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's Monster, Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, and Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll. Are we supposed to be excited by the idea of all of these disparate characters coming together? Universal certainly thinks so, but they're forgetting that WE HAVEN'T MET A SINGLE ONE OF THESE CHARACTERS YET, SO WHO GIVES A SHIT?
If your aim is to combine horror icons through a narrative device, you're a little late to the game - it's already been very well done by Penny Dreadful (on television) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (in comics - and I know that's more literary characters, but a lot of horror icons show up in that). Your blockbuster MCU-knockoff being led by the guy who thought it would be really cool if Spider-Man spent multiple movies obsessing over his spy dad and acting weirdly emo should have tipped you off that you were never going to reach those heights.
So if they REALLY wanted to make a big franchise interconnecting characters like Dr. Jekyll and the Invisible Man and Dracula - why not just buy the rights to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and do that series on film BUT GOOD? (sorry Sean Connery version)
Definitely would get less heat from Brendan Fraser fans, at least.