Since movie franchises are all the rage nowadays, Universal has fired up its roster of classic movie monsters for the new Dark Universe film series. First step: give the mummy a makeover to be suitable for an action film.
Wait, an action film? Of course—you didn’t expect Universal to spend over $100 million on a horror icon and not make it an action blockbuster, did you? That’s just the world we live in, but I was willing to hear them out, as the prospect of a connected cinema world of classic movie monsters is too good to pass up. That being said, The Mummy is certainly a tall order as an action picture.
The titular mummy this time around is Princess Ahmanet, played by Sofia Boutella, an actress willing to cover her body in any odd makeup (see Star Trek Beyond’s Jaylah). Realizing there’s no way to move up in the ancient Egypt caste system, Ahmanet makes a blood contract with the god Set to attain more power, one slit throat at a time. If she could just slaughter one more vessel, she’d finally acquire the ability to be a god (or something). Those plans are put on hold when she is captured, wrapped and buried alive in a sarcophagus, sentenced to imprisonment for an eternity or until some adventurer accidentally opens her casket.
The adventurer happens to be Nick, a generic adventure-seeking treasure hunter played by Tom Cruise who delivers such bland banter as, “Where is your sense of adventure?” It’s actually a good question, though—if directed at the movie itself. All the elements are present to make this a thrilling Tom Cruise vehicle, with the iconic action star throwing himself into terrorist gunfire, intense car chases, and a descending jet that plummets towards the earth. These are cool stunts, but it’s sad to think that these are almost standard for Cruise’s role, as he is quickly turning into an American Jackie Chan. Though his scenes are expertly assembled and designed for him to take major beatdowns, they occur more out of necessity rather than naturally in a script that is banking more on its enthusiasm than its writing.
Regardless, Nick awakens the mummy, seemingly out of boredom, and unwittingly become the host of a curse that causes him to see dead people and become compelled to be near her. Ahmanet needs Nick’s cursed body so that she can stab it with a sacred dagger and jewel, which will grant them both eternal life or power (or whatever). This doesn’t sit well with Nick’s on-off archeologist girlfriend, Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis), another character so poorly written that she first enters the picture by slapping Cruise’s face for being a scoundrel that never fully respected her or archeology. Believe it or not, the movie seems to imply some weird love triangle between Nick, Jennifer, and Ahmanet—at least, that’s what it seems in a scene in which Jennifer walks in on a shirtless Nick being prepped for ritual stabbing. The obligatory line from Nick that it’s “not what it looks likes” reads as a quip more from a supernatural sitcom than from a summer blockbuster.
But is it supposed to be fun? Alex Kurtzman’s direction seems rather all over the place, bouncing between being a horrific monster movie and a goofy adventure picture. There’s a scene (spoilers ahead) in which Nick’s bumbling traveling companion Chris (Jake Johnson) succumbs to the curse and Nick is forced to shoot him. Tragic? Apparently not, considering how slapstick the death becomes as Nick shoots the body a few more times. Chris’s ghost later pops up to follow Nick and inform him about the curse, but with that same playful nature he always had. It’s a role that echoes that of the decomposing spirit in An American Werewolf in London, but that picture felt fitting for the character’s morbid reaction to a horrifying situation. Chris seems far too cheerful and eccentric for being a doomed spirit that suffered a horrible death. Wouldn’t he have more to say to Nick besides being the commentary for his action scenes?
And about that mummy curse, Ahmanet’s powers seem to be very inconsistent and unexplainable at times. She seems to control spiders to do her bidding and infect human beings with her curse, but the amount of time it takes for the infected to become a zombie seems to occur anywhere from an hour to a few minutes. She gains more power by sucking the souls out of men through their mouths—after the 15th death, wouldn’t people have figured out to cover their mouths? Nick’s curse seems to compel him to speed towards Ahmanet, but this aspect seems to only be present for a few scenes, when it’s convenient to usher him from point A to point B in the plot. Most of his desire for the mummy seems to come more out of curiosity for the constant flashbacks than out of any genuine romance. I don’t think he has very much of a tough choice between a sassy archeologist and an undead woman who promises him eternal life. Sure, he’d live forever, but I can’t imagine that marriage would be much fun after the first century.
The best of the movie comes more in the form of future potential than what is on screen. Ahmanet is at one point subdued by a secret organization of monster trappers headed by Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), obviously staged as an Agents of SHIELD type of operation. Jekyll has mastered his chemistry to medicate his evilness in the form of Hyde and desires to contain more evils in the world. This may seem like too much for the movie, but I love the idea that Jekyll is at the center of an effort to bring monsters together and keep them under wraps (pardon the pun). There’s a fantastic scene in which the Hyde personality comes out and tries to bargain with Nick’s cursed soul to join him in a campaign of bringing forth hell on Earth. That’s neat, but what of the monster hunting organization? They seem to know what they’re doing when they restrain the mummy with grappling hooks and pump her full of mercury but seem to have missed the memo about her ability to control spiders and suck out souls. Some bug spray and mouth guards could have done wonders.
Ultimately, The Mummy showcases clips of decent summer blockbusters, diced and chopped up into creating one that is mediocre. It could have worked as a Tom Cruise vehicle, if only the stunts were more fresh and didn’t rely on computer graphics for so many scenes that could have been practical. It could have been a terrifying horror picture, if only it weren’t so uneven with moments of one-liner comedy. It could have been a popcorn action picture, if only its moments of horror didn’t contrast with the campy nature of the comedy. And the whole organization of monster trappers is a unique angle to pursue, if only it weren’t treated as a side story to connect the Dark Universe. All of this turns The Mummy into the most disappointing of committee-made movies that want to hit every beat, no matter how artificially the movie has to get there. I want to root for the Dark Universe, but when its first entry is a sloppy and confused picture that aims more from market data than genuine thrills, the future is looking a little grim for this franchise.