The Mummy is a lifeless, shambling start to a cinematic universe
Director: Alex Kurtzman Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson Running Time: 107 minutes
The scariest moment in The Mummy comes before its titular monster even shows up onscreen. After the Universal fanfare stops and their globe has faded from view, the title card of the “Dark Universe” appears on screen, signifying The Mummy’s status as the first entry in yet another interconnected series of blockbusters. The repurposing of Universal’s classic monster movies into identikit action flicks to be packaged off to the international market looks like a particularly desperate attempt from the studio to get a slice of Marvel’s pie, and that Dark Universe logo and its confirmation that they are going all in on this may not be the kind of fright to provoke nightmares, but it certainly might lead to a few headaches before going to bed.
It’s hard to discuss the merits and failings of The Mummy as its own movie, because it’s so barely trying to be one. It’s a product tripping over itself to set up more product to come, a story that says “yeah, yeah, this is what a movie is” without much to distinguish it from any other summer blockbuster from the last few years. The genre shift from horror to action-adventure is workable, it certainly worked fine for Brendan Fraser’s Mummy movies, but after this movie’s introductory shootout in modern-day Iraq, Tom Cruise’s roguish thief is hardly ever taking part in anything that’s actually exciting. Once he and his sidekick Jake Johnson discover the mummy’s prison and Cruise is cursed (with this franchise?), there are more scenes of people explaining things to him than anything that resembles action.
Once he’s turned into a servile zombie by the unleashed mummy’s command over magic mind control deadly zombie insects – the tightness of this script is truly impressive – Johnson exists to explain to Cruise that the mummy has her eye on making him her faithful companion in world domination. Or some kind of domination. Generic evil. Russell Crowe explains several times the general backstory of the mummy, as well as the purpose of the shadowy monster tracking the government organisation that he, Dr. Jeckyll, presides over. Annabelle Wallis plays Cruise’s (obviously younger) love interest, and she gets the joy of two explaining jobs. Not only does she provide the pseudo-history jargon, she also gets to flatly and literally tell Cruise what kind of man he is and how far along they are in their sub-Solo/Leia courtship. The pair have all the chemistry of a snow crab and a vaccum cleaner, yet their relationship is what the story hinges teteringly on. The Mummy can’t even make it believable that any of these characters existed before the movie started, never mind that Cruise is some conflicted soul or Wallis’s love can bring out the good in him. They’re all just archetypes taken out of a box, dusted off, loaded with exposition and made to run away from a not-very-scary lady in bandages.
The lack of freshness may be explained in part by the long list of writers, with Rachel Getting Married’s writer Jenny Lumet flanked by summer movie ringers like David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and the film’s director Alex Kurtzmann, who has worked on the likes of the recent Star Trek reboots and several Transformers movies with usual writing partner Robert Orci. On paper, this is a story about an undead queen trying to seduce a thief with a good heart to the side of evil, but that doesn’t come across in what is actually shown. Kurtzman can’t put any sensuality on screen at all, not whe there are more designless CGI monsters to put there instead. The feeling of a story decided by committee is overwhelming. It is not impossible for a film with a lot of writers to be good, but when it’s combined with an inexperieced director, an over-eager studio and, well, Tom Cruise, it’s not hard to see the broth starting to boil over and bad ideas start to spill out: Dr.Jekyll as a Nick Fury stand-in is the kind of concept that follows after the words “there are no bad ideas in brainstorming” are uttered, the indifference with which the movie treats it own London-destroying climax feels like pages and/or reels got lost somewhere along the lengthy chain of command. The result is very dull and even the points it would get for not bein overly long like most summer movies is squandered by the second act chaining the mummy up in shady agency headquarters for more talking, stopping the movie dead just when it finallt started going somewhere.
And then there’s the Tom Cruise of it all. Cruise’s style of action movie clashes with everything else around him. He’s good more often than not at playing his type, but that’s not who this character is, he’d be miscast even if has the right age or the right level of charming. The need to centre the spotlight on its moviestar lead ends up hurting The Mummy because it isn’t about the actual mummy, it’s about some thief guy the mummy wants to hook up with for vague reasons. Sofia Boutella provides the watchable physicality and screen presence that she’s shown in other blockbusters like Star Trek Beyond and Kingsman, but she’s sidelined far too often. That Cruise spends as much time fighting Mr. Hyde as he does fighting the mummy in a movie called The Mummy shows the fundamental problem; the rush to get a franchise on the road without care for this movie in itself. The promise of more to come is exhausting.(2 / 5)