The Universal Monsters were the original cinematic universe. Long before DC & Marvel got their chance Dracula, Frankenstein and indeed The Mummy crossed over. Whether it be to fight or bumble around Abbott and Costello, the popular monsters met each other on multiple occasions. Now, Universal is calling back to this with their newly branded “Dark Universe.” A lot of The Mummy sets up this connected universe. Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) is our Nick Fury, the leader of a secret organization set on collecting and studying these supernatural creatures. Well, studying and killing them. Which upsets the people who were being chased by The Mummy (Sofia Boutella). Who is trying to bring back an evil Egyptian god in human form. Are you losing track? Don’t worry. It’ll be exposited to you every twenty minutes.
The Mummy is a pretty frustrating experience. It’s the ultimate example of putting the cart before the horse in terms of trying to start up a massive franchise without laying solid groundwork. The Marvel Cinematic Universe focused on making a good Iron Man movie without heavily bombarding the audience with teases for a new universe. Hell, even DC tried to do that with Man of Steel. Here, the titular villain becomes much more of a means to an end rather than an intimidating presence to fight against. Boutella tries her best, attempting to give her undead goddess a slinky confidence that’s more than the script could give her. Especially when her ultimate purpose is to unleash dull CG windstorm/rats/shambling corpses upon the world. Still, she and a rather game Russell Crowe as intellectual Dr. Jekyll/cockney tumbler Mr. Hyde are at least trying to give this some life. Though we don’t focus on them nearly enough.
Instead, most of our time is spent with Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a two faced thief and liar that’s supposed to be our hero. While attempting to have some kind of redemption arc, Nick helps his generic love interest/damsel in distress Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) once. Then, after said saving, Nick consistently leaves her to die, disrespects her knowledge and treats any kind of supernatural force without an ounce of gravity. While not Tom Cruise’s worst film in recent memory, The Mummy features a rare Cruise in pilot mode. No, that’s not a Top Gun joke. The type of effortless charm Cruise usually displays is represented as an empty shadow. The chemistry with Annabelle Wallis’ non-character is non-existent. Every attempt at roguish charm framed to make us become endeared to Nick Morton comes off as petty and ignorant. Even the stunts are unconvincing and listless.
Nick Morton is the type of insecure dumbass that no one would want to follow or – more importantly – have any kind of sympathy for. With the original Universal Monsters, a tragic empathy was crucial to the general characters. The Wolfman contemplated suicide. Frankenstein was a being brought back from death to scorn and outrage. Imhotep – OG The Mummy as played by Boris Karloff – merely wanted to find his love again in a new life. It’s something co-writer/director Alex Kurtzman tries to strive for with Nick Morton, with his internal make up being severely affected by his encounters with The Mummy. The audience is meant to extend tragic feeling towards Nick as his mind is under the control of our titular beast. Yet, there’s nothing there. A soulless vapid entity that feels incredibly close to a woman who he constantly doesn’t seem to care about after only having a one night stand with her. It’s the most hollow thing this entire affair could hang its coat on.
Morton’s encounters with the supernatural elements of The Mummy are rather unimpressive. The elaborate sandstorms amounts to little excitement, only making one recall the amazing Dubai sandstorm chase scene in Cruise’s Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol. His constant visualization of a decaying Jake Johnson calling him to do things that will obviously end up killing him with attempted comedic frankness. So, the worst impression of Griffin Dunne’s character in American Werewolf in London. The methods in which Boutella even brings people back from the dead only serve as lingering reminders of the earlier Brendan Fraser mummies from the dawn of the new millennium, a reminder that makes those films look far better in retrospect. Especially since the 1999 originator of that incarnation of the series knew to at least do one thing right; keep the plot simple.
Here, Alex Kurtzman and his five other credited writers do the worst possible job of taking the basic premise and repeating it over and over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over again. Yet, they’ll further convolute the entire throughline by giving the macguffin of the dagger multiple parts that need to be found and a rather confusing climactic twist that shows a triumph based on… literally nothing inherent to our main character. It’s the type of writing that Alex Kurtzman has contributed to modern blockbusters with his work on the first few Transformers films, where drama and conflict is confused with plodding narrative. And most of that comes from the decision to build up this Dark Universe concept rather than an engaging individual story with The Mummy.
None of this helps the fact that The Mummy is merely Kurtzman’s second film, following the long forgotten romantic drama People Like Us. The inexperience shows in spades with Kurtzman’s attempts at creating dynamic action scenes or horrific atmosphere. He relies so much on dodgy CG and over editing to give our titular monster any kind of threat and the action sequences a sense of propulsive kinetic excitement. But neither help in any fashion. Every decision feels like Kurtzman wanted to emulate directors he’s written for like Michael Bay or JJ Abrams, but without an ounce of ability in terms of selecting angles or creating dynamic flow to the action moments that they have. Yet, even a Michael Bay Transformers film has better moments of action than this.
The Mummy is a disaster. That should be pretty obvious after all of this. An attempt to bring these monsters together, only to drive them off the screen with a complete dud of a first outing. The sad thing is these characters could work in a modern universe context, but not this way. As a tribute to its horror source material, it fails to capture the basic integrity of tragedy or scares. As an attempted action film, it fails to generate much excitement in that fashion. What results is an identity crisis for this supposed universe that notes a lot of voices trying to stir this pot, only for the meal to be a failure pile of a stew. The Mummy is everything that’s wrong with modern universe building in Hollywood franchises. It’s the equivalent of if Marvel started their universe with Iron Man 2 instead of Iron Man. But that’s an insult to Iron Man 2.
Rating: 1 out of 5 Horridly CG Rats