We have arrived at the latest version of The Mummy, a property that has a long history in the realm of Hollywood filmmaking spanning from Universal to Hammer horror films. The most famous (and my own personal favorite) is the 1932 Universal Monster movie starring Boris Karloff and the 1999 Stephan Sommers directed adventure film starring Brendan Fraser. I have made it no secret that I am a big fan of the Universal Monster movies, and so when it was announced that Universal wanted to start a brand new cinematic universe centered on their movie monsters, I got really excited. Universal really had the cinematic universe in its earliest forms with their massive crossover movies in the 1930s and 1940s like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. So, this latest update of The Mummy had to accomplish two things: be a good mummy movie and set the groundwork for their cinematic universe.
Did it accomplish either of those things? I guess it sort of lays the groundwork for their cinematic universe…. kind of? But is it a good mummy movie or even a good movie for that matter? I don’t think it is.
The latest Mummy movie takes things into present day where a treasure hunter named Nick (played by Tom Cruise) accidentally unearths a mummy that was buried far away from the sands of Egypt. As is the case in all of these movies, the mummy gets awoken and has nefarious plans for Nick. Nick has been chosen as a human sacrifice to bring an ultimate evil to life. Another group also has their sights set on the mummy, a mysterious group called Prodigium led by the strange Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
If the two plot lines of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and the Mummy sound a bit separate, then you wouldn’t be wrong to think that. This movie is written by three different writers and it shows. The biggest weakness of this movie is the movie’s story. There is no solid direction here or any tonal consistency to speak of. In some parts, it’s an action movie and in other parts, it’s a horror movie. Humor comes in at weird spots and other times this feels like a massive set up movie. The trouble is the “set up” carries very little weight because the mythology is convoluted, not explained, and not given its own set of rules, therefore, it becomes very hard for the viewer to be able to understand it all. This isn’t being clever. There should be some mystery left for the remainder of the series, but when I left the movie, I was left with tons of questions and very little answers given.
Setup has become a dirty word because of how badly many movies do setup for future installments. Batman V Superman, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 2 (and plenty of others) all intrude on their own movies so future movies can thrive. There are ways to do setup and make it feel cohesive to the film at hand. A small example can be seen this year with John Wick: Chapter 2 (that sequel certainly sets up the third movie). The Mummy suffers from the former examples. It wants to introduce the setup for The Dark Universe so badly that it intrudes upon its own film. Nothing is really gained from the Prodigium scenes that couldn’t have been explained elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but he doesn’t get much screen time to leave too much of a lasting impact (the only thing I got out of it have I wanted a stand-alone movie with the character).
Tom Cruise plays Nick. I think the character of Nick really sums up my main problem with this movie. There isn’t a sense of identity. Nick feels like several characters at once, and to be fair, Cruise does a good job at playing all the different sides. Director Alex Kurtzman can’t seem to direct the actor to bring those different sides of the character into one package. One moment he is playing Nathan Drake from Uncharted, the wisecracking treasure hunter, the next he is Tom Cruise the action star, then he is playing a goofball. As I said before, it feels a lot like there are multiple writers on this movie, and I don’t think they consulted one another.
The movie can’t even clearly define who Nick is as a character. Is he a treasure hunter? But then why can he call in airstrikes from the US military? Is he a military member? But then why is he off on his own as a treasure hunter? Does the United States sanction treasure hunts? But if that’s true why does Nick sell stuff on the black market? Wouldn’t that get him locked up? You see the problem here? Who is Nick? We don’t know. You don’t need to give us his life story.
Let’s look at the 1999 Mummy movie for a second. The main lead is Rick O’ Connell (played by Brenden Fraser). Who is he? He is a soldier whose garrison sought out Hamunaptra. The garrison was killed in the process. Rick knows the location of the city, which is why Rick is sought after by Evelyn and Johnathon Carnahan. There, the adventure begins. It’s clear, well defined, and sets up the entire movie. Who is Nick? Why do we need him? Why do I care if he lives or dies? He isn’t likable in the least bit. The result of his arc is a bit hard stretching into where it’s going to lead into future movies (if it will at all).
But enough on that, this time playing the Mummy is Sofia Boutella. She (along with Russell Crowe) is the best parts of this movie. While I have problems with the mythology of the character she is playing and her random sort of powers, Sofia’s performance is certainly not in question. She carries a physical presence and power that she doesn’t have to express vocally. I would love to see her return in future films and just more of her in general.
I will mention some other positives (because this isn’t “Fan4istic” by any means). The stunts and action scenes were well staged. Unfortunately, director Alex Kurtzman doesn’t seem to bring much of his own style to the film and the result feels a bit too much like a studio job. Kurtzman also doesn’t film the stunts in such a way that really showcases them. There is some really impressive stunt work on display here, but it’s not filmed in a way that would really up the movie’s wow factor. Regardless of that, the action is still good (this movie is devoid of any shaky cam). Also, I did appreciate that Kurtzman attempted to add a few moments of horror (even if they fall short).
The Mummy is certainly watchable. It has a massive set of problems in the writing department, but it’s competently shot and presented in a manner that kept me watching. I am still interested in the Dark Universe as a whole (or at least the concept of it). I hope Bill Condon’s Bride Of Frankenstein gets to be just The Bride of Frankenstein and not more setup for future installments. It’s really unfortunate to lead out the gate with this movie and not really bring an interesting mythology to the table. I think there are better ways this movie could have been done and work in some of this setup. But, that’s not the film I got, so I can’t judge it on the what-ifs. The sad truth is I think Dracula Untold is a better movie than this (which isn’t saying much for Dracula Untold). That movie could have been a part of the Dark Universe (who doesn’t want to see Luke Evans REALLY play Dracula?). Either way, it’s not a good start to a universe nor is it a good standalone Mummy movie. As a Universal Monster fan, I was disappointed.