This latest reboot of The Mummy franchise is Universal Studios attempt to marry together the Tom Cruise Summer blockbuster with their back catalogue of movie monsters like The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolfman. This new “Dark Universe” franchise is, however, off to an uneven start.
I had high hopes going into The Mummy. Tom Cruise is still a big draw at the cinema, probably one of the few “movie stars” who still draws in big audiences, and the marketing hinted at something quite different from the Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weitz era Mummy movies. Unfortunately, it’s not quite more than the sum of its parts and many of those part don’t really gel together.
After far too many prologues, voice-overs, info dumps and set-ups, many of which will be told via flashback again later, Nick Morton (Cruise) happens upon a hidden Egyptian tomb, thousands of miles from where you would expect to find one, in Iraq. Accompanying Nick are his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson from The New Girl and Jurassic World) who was helping him “liberate” ancient antiquities as well as archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). Helpfully, Jenny’s in Iraq to help protect historically significant finds just like this one, and it’s decided they’ll take the creepy sarcophagus at the heart of the tomb with them. Obviously, this turns out to be a very bad idea and after a short flight the inhabitant of the sarcophagus, the ancient sorceress Ahmanet, slowly exerts her powers to escape. Having chosen Nick to be the vessel for her love, the Egyptian god Set, she goes about tracking him down.
I’ll get by with a little help from my friends
While Nick is mostly clueless he may find some help from a mysterious group that seems to know a lot more about what’s going on than anyone else. A group led by the mysterious Dr. Jekyll (Russel Crowe).
While The Mummy features a couple of interesting ideas that could form a solid foundation for a franchise, they never come together in a totally satisfying way to tell this story. Bringing The Mummy legend back to the present day, having a group that fights monsters be led by a monster and some alluring developments in its finale are let down by some shoddy execution.
Partly this is down to the choice of tone for the film, or rather the lack of a definitive tone. The Mummy veers from horror to action to comedy with the transitions between being incredibly jarring at times, especially when it comes to comedy. Whether this was intentional is an open question, as other elements give the impression of a production without a definitive vision. Far too often the same information is covered again and again, in flashback and then between characters. Sometimes a third flashback is thrown in for good measure, giving the distinct impression that the filmmakers don’t have confidence in their audience to keep up.
While Cruise is playing an ever-so-slightly less likable version of his usual persona (he stole the map to the tomb from Jenny and is out for himself more than anyone else) it’s still recognisably “Tom Cruise” up there on the screen.
Starring Tom Cruise as “Tom Cruise”
Sofia Boutella is more than up to the task of squaring up against him as Ahmanet, by turns fearsome and deserving of your pity. Anabelle Wallis, however, is relegated to running after Cruise screaming “Nick!” incessantly and robbed of any real character. There’s no real on-screen chemistry between her and Cruise and it doesn’t help that the spark of romance between them happens off-screen before the story begins.
Crowe hams it up playing the two sides of Dr. Jekyll, but it’s hardly a performance that you would build a franchise around. Jekyll’s office does provide a nice link to Stephen Sommers’ Mummy movies though. Eagle-eyed viewers should be able to spot the Egyptian book of the Dead in the background. While Jake Johnson’s sporadic appearances are always welcome, they are part of that jarring shift in tone throughout the movie.
As expected from the star of the Mission Impossible films the action is pretty well handled. A zero gravity sequence in a plane stands out, with Cruise inside the plane as opposed to strapped to the outside as he was in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, however once the supernatural action starts it’s hard to make out much of what’s going on. In what seems to be a worrying trend, most of the biggest action set pieces are set at night or around a van speeding through a dark CGI-enhanced landscape. It’s enjoyable in the moment but isn’t all that memorable. There are also some terrific scare moments but they tend to dry up in the second half.
Over before it begins?
A frustrating ending sets up a great sacrifice but then immediately undercuts it by showing some of the characters involved off happily on their next great adventure. Apparently unaffected by the horrors that they just encountered, while a voice-over tells us it will haunt the forever. Again it feels like the filmmakers were aiming for a dark ending but chickened out at the last moment.
Universal can still sell the idea of a shared Monsters universe with Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein, and others however they need to do so by telling good stories with interesting characters first.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Official Site here.