We live in a world full of film franchises. Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Harry Potter…all of them have enabled the major studios to print money. So it’s no surprise that most studios are looking to launch the next big thing. Universal is placing a lot of faith in The Mummy, the first movie in their “Dark Universe” franchise, a reboot of their legendary movie monsters.
Unfortunately, The Mummy is a failure on nearly ever level. Its titular monster is pushed aside for a miscast Tom Cruise in a movie more concerned with setting up a new universe than giving us a decent horror flick. This feature length first act is never sure what it wants to be, as it goes from a monster movie with no tension to tired action cliches with sprinkles of awkwardly placed humor within a few minutes. At best, it’s a cynical money grab that rarely entertains.
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…
Soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) awakens Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian Princess erased from history because she sold her soul to the dark god Set. She makes Nick her “Chosen,” the key to bringing the dark god into the real world. Through archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick is introduced to Prodigium, an organization led by the infamous Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) that specializes in fighting ancient evil. Nick struggles to understand this fantastic universe (See what I did there?) as both his life and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
The story is nothing we haven’t seen before. An ancient evil, a dashing hero, a globe trotting adventure…it’s all here. But odd changes in tone from dead serious to terribly placed comic relief are only one problem. The movie can never decide what it wants to be. Is it a horror movie? An action movie? An awkward comedy? The ever changing focus confuses the audience, not because it’s over complicated but because we are never sure where to invest our interest.
Whether it’s an action or horror flick, there’s an alarming lack of tension in The Mummy. The dark atmosphere is boring, jump scares are projected and action sequences are all too familiar, so any sense of danger is virtually missing. There is one cool sequence, where the plane carrying Ahmanet to England plummets out of the sky, but the movie’s trailers give it away. It’s too bad, because the sequence is actually pretty well done. Unless you like seeing Tom Cruise getting smacked around like a rag doll, there’s not a whole lot of excitement to lure action fans in.
Making the ancient mummy female is an interesting choice. A woman in an ancient Egypt grasping at power makes for an understandable, if not necessarily sympathetic, motive. Ahmanet even has a striking, unique look. But the movie never really plays up her background, preferring to have the talented Boutella simply vamp or spout obvious cliches. But the biggest crime or all? She is pushed aside in her own movie.
No matter how you feel about Tom Cruise, he is the quintessential movie star. You have some idea of what to expect when you see one of his movies, and that causes problems here. Nick is supposed to be somewhat unlikable, a man who tries to reconcile his outwardly greedy nature with a supposedly good soul. But Cruise is charming throughout, playing his typical hero. You never buy that he will turn completely evil.
His relationship with Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny is terribly done. This is particularly disappointing due to how an important the affair is to the narrative. You never buy into it because Jenny is paper thin as a character and the relationship between the two is so poorly constructed that it leaves you cold.
The Mummy should have cast either a more intriguing actor in the lead role or a virtual unknown. Or maybe even feature a female hero, turning the dynamic between the villain and the hero into something truly interesting. Instead, we get a familiar hero that is never very intriguing.
Yet Another Cinematic Universe
The Mummy is only the first step in Universal Studios’ new Dark Universe and this causes the movie to become a boring extended first act to a wider narrative. The presence of Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll is a completely unnecessary flourish, adding yet another layer to an already messy story. Granted, Crowe has a ball playing the legendary scientist/monster and it’s cool to see him alongside Cruise, but it’s all very shallow.
This movie is the latest example of a very cynical practice in Hollywood, where every summer blockbuster is the launching pad for some new franchise. Those blockbusters aren’t movies…they’re two hour set ups for other movies. The Mummy tries hard to be so many things at once, but fails at all of them, including that set up.
The conclusion is shocking, not because it’s a well done twist, but because the movie never tells us that this outcome is an option. There are no hints at the choice that Nick ultimately makes and it feels like it comes from a completely different movie. The outcome is unearned and doesn’t bode well for the Dark Universe.
A Poor Start
At one point in this poor start to the Dark Universe, there is a very obvious nod to 1999’s The Mummy, the Brendan Fraser starring action adventure. It’s a bad choice as it only reminds the audience of a superior reboot. Say what you will about that movie, at least it knew what it was.
The Mummy has some intriguing bits, but all of them are buried in an absolute mess of a movie. Universal should have concentrated on making a decent film. Instead, we get a forgettable cinematic disaster that’s not even a “so bad it’s fun” outing.
SCORE: 2 OUT OF 10