Cinematic universe writers rooms were supposed to be the answer to crafting reimagined mythologies for massive, unwieldy properties like Transformers and Universal’s monster movie-verse, “Dark Universe.” The idea was to bring together talented, creative, and experienced screenwriters in order to hash out a framework for years upon years of major feature films, all connected through a central brand, theme, or intellectual property; this would also allow for diverse points of view and styles for the final films themselves since they weren’t beholden to one singular creative vision. While that may work in some instances (the early days of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, for example), it’s clearly not a cure-all. Relatively poor box office and critical performances for both Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy may have the studios rethinking their writers room experiment.
Transformers was humming along just fine as a multibillion-dollar franchise until Paramount Pictures decided to take a page from the Golden Age of Television and put together a writers room to expand the brand’s mythology, one that was headed by Oscar-winning writer, Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). But with Transformers: The Last Knight currently occupying the worst opening weekend, the worst domestic tally, and the worst international total by far among other Transformers films, it’s little surprise that Goldsman appears to be done with the franchise.
/Film had a very brief chance to chat with Goldsman during the ongoing TCA 2017 event and ask him if he was still involved with Transformers. His simple answer? “No.” While Transformers: The Last Knight was the first product of Paramount’s writers room, the next project is the standalone Autobot film Bumblebee, directed by Travis Knight of LAIKA fame and opening opposite Warner Bros.’ Aquaman (for the moment) on December 21, 2018. Christina Hodson (Shut In, Unforgettable) holds the sole screenwriting credit for that film, and we’re hoping something more focused than Transformers: The Kitchen Sink arrives for that telling, one that should be a slam dunk.
Universal Pictures is struggling with their own writers room, one that was supposed to kick off in spectacular fashion with Alex Kurtzman‘s The Mummy, anchored by Tom Cruise and bolstered by Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, and Sofia Boutella. IGN caught up with Kurtzman, also a former Transformers writer, to ask about his future with Dark Universe:
“You know the truth is, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I haven’t really decided. Is the honest answer. I have to stay interested in it. I have to feel like my passion is there for it. I think … if your passion isn’t there you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Perhaps the withering critical reception has taken some wind out of Kurtzman’s sails. After taking in a disappointing $79.7 million at home for a respectable, but by no means preferred, total of almost $400 million, The Mummy is not the Dark Universe start that Universal was looking for. That’s a problem. This isn’t just one film’s critical and financial failure, but the unsteady foundation of what’s intended to be an entire cinematic universe. Universal’s been down this road before with films like 2004’s Van Helsing and 2014’s Dracula Untold, both of which failed to ignite a franchise. Are audiences just tired of classic monster movies, or is it just that these attempts have been a mess?
I think it’s the latter, but that might not change anytime soon. Since China accounted for nearly 25% of the total box office, there’s the potential for future Dark Universe films to be tailored to their market. Kurtzman dodged a question along those terms:
“It’s hard for me to know, is the truth. I think every movie will be different. I certainly know that the legacy of the monsters have endured across the world throughout the years. Almost a century. So I have to believe American audiences will find it too with the right ingredients.”
Call me crazy, but perhaps a cinematic universe based on classic monsters and steeped in horror history should, I dunno, return to horror roots. I enjoyed The Mummy as a nonsensical action-adventure spectacular, but the parts where it blazed ever so briefly were the moments of horror: When Ahmanet is attempting to recoup her strength, she and her newly resurrected followers have a delightfully gruesome appearance, design, and way of moving. It was but a glimmer of past horror films, but it’s something the Dark Universe could build around if they choose to do so. Whether or not they’ll do it with Kurtzman on board remains to be seen.