Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson
Universal Pictures on
When Universal Pictures remade The Mummy in 1999, they wisely opted for a radically different tone, shifting from the atmospheric horror of the 1932 original to a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style adventure motif. Now, for the third major film to bear the title, the filmmakers have once again moved in a different direction. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, this version of The Mummy brings to mind the 2004 mega-bomb Van Helsing. Narratively incoherent and full of cheese and camp, this movie makes it clear that the mummy should have remained dead and buried.
There's no real story here - at least not one worth telling. The Mummy, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, wearing nearly as much makeup here as in Star Trek Beyond), is a supporting character in her own movie. Tom Cruise sucks all the oxygen out of the film - an act in which the filmmakers (led by J.J. Abrams' buddy and the co-writer of two Transformers movies, director Alex Kurtzman) are enablers. Cruise is woefully miscast but no matter. He's a A-list star and he plays Nick Morton in such a way that he's indistinguishable from Ethan Hunt. There's no character here - this is Tom Cruise and he never lets us forget that. (Strangely, he seems to have forgotten to pack his internationally famous screen charisma.) The Mummy is an afterthought.
Calling this The Mummy is a bait-and-switch tactic. It has nothing to do with either the 1932 or the 1999 films except that all three feature re-animated, embalmed corpses. The 2017 edition boasts an all-new "story", with resurrected evil Princess Ahmanet seeking to stab her chosen, Nick, with a really nasty dagger so the god Set can inhabit him. Nick isn't too excited about this fate so, accompanied by pretty scientist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), he spends a lot of time running around either chasing Ahmanet or trying to avoid her. His goal is as murky as the screenplay but he eventually decides that the best approach is to smash the red gemstone that fits into the hilt of the knife. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe shows up as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde because one monster just isn't good enough for The Mummy.
One goal of The Mummy is to establish a multi-movie crossover umbrella intended to rival Marvel's MCU and DC's DCEU. Universal has decided that their most valuable properties are the so-called "classic monsters" (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, etc.) so in a stroke of brilliance worthy of a lobotomized monkey, they have created The Dark Universe. The Mummy has the honor of introducing this idiocy and the result is more about getting the pieces on the board than telling a story any thinking human being would be interested in watching. The Mummy rarely makes sense and, on those occasions when it does (or isn't contradicting itself), we almost wish it didn't.
One assumes that Tom Cruise's salary for The Mummy was so exorbitant that not much was left over for the special effects because, by comparison, the 1999 Brendan Fraser iteration offered a more visual bang for the buck. The CGI in the new film is workmanlike but sparse and hardly worthy of a big summer spectacle. The big plane crash scene early in the proceedings is the movie's high point but even that is overlong and underwhelming. Everything that happens after that defies logic and common sense. The fights with the undead (not mummies - there's only one of those) draw inspiration from either The Three Stooges or Army of Darkness, making us wish Nick was being played by Bruce Campbell rather than Tom Cruise.
Now, about that Van Helsing comparison. To be fair, The Mummy is nowhere near the level of jaw-dropping awfulness of the 2004 film that killed Universal's earlier ill-advised attempt to resurrect their classic monsters. But there's some of the same stench here: bad writing, careless direction, and hammy acting. The pointless inclusion of Jekyll/Hyde is more awkward than shoehorning Wonder Woman into Batman v. Superman.
The Mummy doesn't end. It stops. The film's purpose is to set up more movies not to exist in its own right. Considering everything we're told over the course of the previous 100+ minutes, the final scene makes no sense whatsoever. Who cares, though - it's a cute way to wrap things up and get us ready for whatever comes next. One movie in, The Dark Universe is already a black hole of creativity and intelligence.
© 2017 James Berardinelli
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