Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson
Plot: Thought safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess, whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.
It seems everyone and their mother wants a cinematic universe these days. With Marvel’s cinematic universe breaking box office records with every entry, all the studio wants a piece of that box office pie. And that means making a cinematic universe out of anything and everything. Disney has Star Wars alongside Marvel, Warner Bros have their DC Universe, The Conjuring universe and their upcoming Hanna-Barbera Universe, Paramount is desperately trying to make a Transformers universe a thing while Sony tries to make a Spider-Man universe… without Spider-Man.
Universal meanwhile are planning their own universe. Titled Dark Universe, this universe will bring together all of the classic Universal Monsters from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and even The Phantom of the Opera. The Dark Universe kicks off with The Mummy, hoping to get us all excited for this ultimate monster mash. So how does it fare?
Well, as the launching pad to a new cinematic universe, The Mummy certainly hits all the right beats. It introduces the universe, introduces several key characters and sets up the franchise going forward. However, it never exactly quite comes together.
It’s hard to pin exactly what went wrong. Was it the script? Was it director Alex Kurtzman? There’s just something about The Mummy that stops it from stepping out of the “passable entertainment” barrier. It’s a shame, as there’s plenty of good ideas on show but none of it ever really connects in the way the filmmakers seem to want it to. In fact most of the film’s second act, which is where most of the world building for the Dark Universe takes place, feels oddly out of place and seems to be at odds with the first and third acts. Having the film completely stop so Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll can give us a guided tour of what we can expect in future movies just doesn’t seem to fit naturally into the film. It’s a longer equivalent of Batman sending Wonder Woman an email filled with teaser trailers for future movies in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It just doesn’t fit naturally into the current narrative. An Easter egg during this segment, implying this film is also set in the same continuity as the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, only complicates matters further.
Tonally the movie is all over the place, suffering from apparently not knowing what sort of movie it wants to be. Is it a horror movie, an action movie, a tongue in cheek adventure movie or a direct lead in to a Monster mash up film? The movie can’t seem to decide and jumps between each one on a scene by scene basis. It does each genre well while it’s doing them, but the jumping between them leads to it being very hard for any form of engagement to occur during them. Scary moments are suddenly undercut by a comedic moment, action moments are suddenly waylaid so exposition for future movies can be spouted and so on and so forth. It leads to a very tonally disconnected experience. The movie would have been better served by sticking to just one or two of these elements and doing those well rather than all of them. A slightly tongue in cheek horror-action movie, with slightly more focus on the horror, like the first Brendan Fraser Mummy movie was the perfect tone for this reboot yet the movie seems to show an aversion to having a consistent tone.
This tonal inconsistency also leads to the film’s lack of scares. While a definite attempt has been made to try and add some scares to the movie, at least those of the jump scare variety, none of it really makes an impact due to comedic moments always undercutting or interrupting scary scenes. Perhaps this was an attempt to lighten the tone by the studio in order to get a 12a rating, an attempt that failed since the film has got a 15, but it raises the question as to why a movie universe theming itself around monsters would be afraid of being scary. Warner Bros’s The Conjuring universe is doing just fine at the box office and those movies are all out horror films so it’s not a matter of Box office.
But there are some good ideas here. The mythology created for the film is particularly well done. The backstory for the Mummy herself Ahmanet is actually pretty great and makes me wonder how good a movie would have been that was more focused on her.
For indeed the star here is Tom Cruise. For better or for worse, this is his movie. And that’s ultimately all there is to say here. Cruise is a divisive actor and if Cruise has yet to win you over, then he certainly won’t here. While Cruise does a decent job in the role, you can’t shake the feeling that he’s oddly out of place and very miscast. The role itself feels much more suited to a younger actor (with Chris Pine feeling like a better fit for the character). The Mummy may have been better served by having Tom Cruise take another role in the Dark Universe, one more suited to his talents. Seeing Cruise as Dracula (to harken back to his An Interview with a Vampire days) or as Johnathan Harker or Quincey Morris in the upcoming Dracula movie may have been a better place for his talents. Which isn’t to say Cruise is bad in The Mummy, but he feels incredibly miscast.
As for the rest of the cast everyone does a fine job with one notable exception. Annabelle Wallis lets the film down by delivering a very flat performance. While this could be an issue with the writing (about 40% or more of the character’s lines are just her shouting the male lead’s name), it’s a crying shame to see that while female characters are getting more and more well written in movies like Wonder Woman, we’re still seeing the decades old “blonde damsel in distress” continue to make appearances.
Sofia Boutella however does an excellent job as the titular Mummy herself. While she doesn’t get a lot of screen time to truly make an impact, she does leave a good impression making me hopeful she’ll return in future instalments to flesh out the character more. Russell Crowe also makes a good impression as Dr Jekyll and his sinister counterpart Mr Hyde, serving very well as the “Nick Fury” of the Dark Universe.
In terms of visuals the movie is… fine I guess. There’s a few nice shots here and there, some cool visual touches but nothing that particularly wows. It all feels very machine like in a way, there’s no real invention here and instead it all feels a little too like Kurtzman is trying to emulate other directors rather than find his own style.
But there is good points to The Mummy. It’s enjoyable mostly, there’s a few good jokes and a few good scares here and there with enough entertaining aspects for it not to feel like a waste of money. There was never a moment where I felt bored or unentertained so the movie has to be given some credit for that. And the movie certainly succeeded in its job in making me excited for the rest of the universe. But there’s the problem. The Mummy made me want to see other movies more than the movie I was watching, which doesn’t bode well.
The Mummy is just another entry in the finely tuned Hollywood reboot machine. Recognisable actor + Beloved franchise + lots of sequel and spin-off set ups. This leaves the film being an enjoyable way to pass two hours, but ultimately unremarkable on its own. More obsessed with setting up the Dark Universe than standing on its own two feet, The Mummy is fine on the surface but underneath the bandages it’s the hollow and tonally confused corpse of a franchise that once was. But despite that, there’s still fun to be had here.