Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Running Time: 110 mins
Synopsis: Nick (Cruise) uses his role as an US soldier abroad to loot precious archaeological sites. One such expedition leads to the discovery of the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Unwittingly releasing her from a cursed captivity she then proceeds to use Nick in order to free the God of Death and plunge the world into darkness.
Despite my intense love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe there is one aspect of its immense success that has become increasingly disconcerting. Primarily the quite frankly ridiculous obsession with making any and all franchises not simply sequels but interconnected multi-tiered “Universes”. This cannot be wholly blamed on Marvel, for one they understand that these worlds need to be slowly and smartly constructed. Sadly the studios following through on this idea have not realised this. DC Comics, Transformers, the WB Monster-Verse, all of them have plans for spin-offs, sequels and even TV series, but all are sadly running before they can walk. Now we can add to that list the so-called Dark Universe, which intends to update the old-school Universal Monster movies for the 21st Century and have them criss-cross through each others films. It is a sign that Universal have gotten a little too carried away when they’ve announced actors for key roles (like Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man) but no actual film release dates!
The Mummy is meant to kick off this new world and you would have thought bringing Tom Cruise into the mix to help carry the immense pressure would have been a terrific idea. Unfortunately in their haste to begin this interconnected universe they forgot to make an actual serviceable film. This is none more noticeable than in the opening moments of the movie when we are subjected to reams of exposition from Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll. Rather than letting the singular story actually start and hook us we have to weigh through some clunky setting-up material surrounding a mysterious society set up to fight supernatural monsters (basically this franchise’s version of SHIELD but with a far more confusing name that eludes me at this time-not a good sign). Rushing through a series of flashbacks to the Egyptian Princess Ahmanet as she murders her Pharaoh father and attempts to unleash the God of Death (as you do).
Eventually we do get to meet this films nominal lead Nick Morton. A US soldier who alongside his wisecracking buddy played by Jake Johnson, go from site to site stealing ancient artefacts. But the film pains itself to point out that they aren’t thieves, simply “liberators” and yet they never at any time elicit our sympathies or affections. During one particular nasty “liberation” an Army drone attack reveals the tomb of Ahmanet, mummified alive in penance for her murderous ways. Into this chaotic mix steps Annabelle Wallis’s Jenny. An archaeologist who’s had previous run ins with Nick. It is at this point where the weaknesses of the confused script come to the fore. Nothing makes any real logical sense. The army appear to know about Nick’s thieving ways but do nothing. Jenny is barely known to the Army but bosses them around like she’s in charge. And the less said about the so-called banter between Cruise and Johnson the better.
Soon enough the Mummy has been discovered and lifted away, for reasons I’m still unsure about, before a mid-flight bird attack leads to the films big action centrepiece. Heavily shown in the marketing material and filmed for real in zero gravity on the so called ‘Vomit Comet’, it is an effectively exciting sequence but becomes marred in something that the overall film struggles with, namely what the hell kind of character Tom Cruise is playing. A soldier who seems to panic when under fire in his opening scenes, then cuts wise-acre cracks afterwards, but as a plane plummets to the ground he suddenly becomes the classic Tom of old. Confident, strong and quick thinking, akin to his Mission Impossible hero Ethan Hunt. This lasts barely a moment before he’s back being dumbfounded and comedic. It is truly awful script writing. Cruise is by far one of the Big Screen’s most luminous talents, his charisma, million dollar smile and action chops always able to light up even the weakest of material. In this though he flounders, desperately trying to make sense of a character that never centres itself. Even the token Tom Cruise runs very fast scene (is there anything more cinematic than a Cruise sprint) cannot muster a sense of much needed energy.
These character issues extend throughout the cast. Wallis comes across needy, strong-willed, bitchy and vulnerable whenever the film needs her to be, without any continuity. Crowe at least has some fun, hamming it up as the titular Jekyll and Hyde, but his big scene comes at the detriment of what should be a massive moment for the A-story. Jake Johnson struggles with the half baked comedy, not to mention a plot turn that is straight out of An American Werewolf in London but with little in the way of wit. The only one to come out of all this with some sense of dignity is Sofia Boutella as the titular Mummy. She has a sultry physicality and captivating malevolence, whilst lacing in a few minor moments of vulnerability. It probably helps that her dialogue is kept to a minimum as the rest of the cast certainly cannot improve on the flaccid words. In an odd move they do turn her into an almost supernatural stalker, obsessed with using Nick to summon the God of Death Anubis, to the point where she follows him around like a lovesick puppy, even giving her actual puppy dog eyes as she begs Nick to release her during one imprisonment sequence.
Having written numerous Transformers films and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Alex Kurtzman turns to directing here and does a passable job. Staging some solid if uninspired action scenes and keeping things moving at a decent pace. The real problem is how 5(!) writers were involved here and yet none of them ever managed to grab hold of one workable character or a semblance of fleshed out story. In 1999 Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz delivered a Mummy film that embraced its cheese, and offered old school thrills amongst the spiky banter. This modern update forgoes that sense of fun in favour of po-faced seriousness, absent-minded logic and clunky world building. The ending at least strives for something unexpected despite the fact that it makes little sense, and there are enough flashes of this extended universe that a halfway decent Dark Universe film is within reach. It is just a pity that this opening gambit has less life in it than the mummified corpse at its centre!
Verdict: A flaccid incoherent script, poorly defined leading man, and hamfisted world building leave this Mummy in desperate need of some stronger bandages.