Expanding on what I said below on The Mummy, I would be all in favor of a new Universal Horror shared universe, but only if it were actually horror. You know, creeping dread, unsettling suggestions, icy fingers down your spine…any of this sound at all familiar? Then you could build up to having big set-pieces where the monsters run amok with each other, but always grounded in more immediate horror. Dracula isn’t scary when he’s wiping out armies single-handedly; he’s scary when he’s lurking about outside someone’s house, calling them to come embrace their own destruction.
Interestingly enough, I think Freddy vs. Jason (odd how often I return to that film) did this pretty well; the film is fast-paced and basically a comic book, but to their credit the filmmakers actually took their time and at least tried to scare us in the film’s early stages. Like when you see Jason is hanging about outside 1428 Elm…then one of the characters discovers the back door open. We know perfectly well what he’s capable of, but we’re not sure what he’s going to do here. Or the scene at the police station, where the heroine suddenly finds herself all alone, with a lot of ‘Missing Child’ posters. In other words, though the point of the film is the big, action-packed set piece, the filmmakers never forgot that this is first and foremost supposed to be a horror film and did their best to scare people as well and entertain them.
That’s really the big problem with most of the shared universe films that are trying to ape Marvel: they’re in such a rush to cash in that they throw everything they have in at once. Marvel took its time: it had five films under its belt laying the foundation before The Avengers, any one of which could more or less stand on its own (except Iron Man 2, which was of course a sequel). The DC films jumped immediately into bringing Batman and Wonder Woman into things (not to mention Doomsday and the Death of Superman a mere two films in), while Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman all had cameos, then they backfilled some of the villains in Suicide Squad with Joker, Harley, Deadshot, Killer Croc, and so on. The fact that almost all these characters fell flat only adds to the sense of desperation. Meanwhile, the horror films seem so desperate to be a tentpole franchise that they’re throwing in all this stupid CG action that neither works as horror (half the movies that come out have some major landmark destroyed in almost the same fashion: it’s not scary) nor, from the looks of it, as pulpy adventure (as in the Stephan Summer Mummy movies).
Actually, the only such shared universe that seems to be working is the kaiju-verse, and surprise! They took their time, with standalone Godzilla and Kong films before the two are scheduled to meet in the big crossover event. Moreover, the standalone films don’t seem like they’re just there to set up a big crossover; they actually feel like real films that someone wanted to make for their own sake.
Anyway, no one’s touching Marvel’s achievement for a long time to come, and DC’s failures only make Marvel’s triumph that much more impressive. Now if they could only do something about fixing their comics department, and by ‘fixing’ I mean ‘cleaning house with a flamethrower.’