If you’re like me, you found a certain campy yet enjoyable quality to 1999’s edition of The Mummy. At the height of his short lived but notable fame, Brendan Fraser exhibited the qualities to make his character of Rick O’Connell an Indiana Jones type hero. Fast forward 18 years and we’ve entered the era of shared universes in cinema. On the outside looking in, Universal Pictures took note of Disney and Warner Bros. cashing in on their own cinematic universes and opted to try one of their own. Thus, we have the Dark Universe. A series of films that center on the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein and all the classic Universal monsters. Its first entry comes in the form of a reboot of The Mummy. Tom Cruise leads this one and he is never able to summon the charm of Fraser is this messy reboot that may curse its budding franchise more than the characters who inhabit it.
Tom Cruise is arguably one of the most hit and miss actor of all time. Early films of his like Rain Man, A Few Good Men, Risky Business and even more recent ones like Collateral show Cruise’s ability to handle a dramatic performance. Yet, he has made middle aged action star his game over the better part of this decade. So it’s no surprise Universal would want to attach a star like Cruise to kick of its universe. I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Mummy is Cruise’s worst, it’s certainly not a stand out in his diverse filmography. Mostly, I cannot say it is his worst since I haven’t seen a majority of his work.
It’s a very Tom Cruise-esque role. He stars as the likable enough but flawed soldier of fortune and anti-hero Nick Morton. After he and his partner (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) along with an archeologist (Annabelle Wallis) disturb the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sophia Boutella), Nick becomes cursed as the princess attempts to shape our world in her vision. Along the way they run into Dr. Henry Jekyll (it’s exactly who you think it is) played by Russell Crowe who explains the curse to Nick.
Directed by Alex Kurtzman (writer of Star Trek Into Darkness) The Mummy is about as generic as action films come. While most of the action is fairly capably done, the rest film consists of confusing tonal shifts and cringe worthy dialogue. The dialogue is often cheesy in these blockbuster action films, and most of the time forgivable if the film can pull it off. The Mummy does not pull it off. The voice over exposition in the movie is the best written dialogue in the film by far. Cruise spouts badly timed one liners attempting to infuse comedy in situations where it isn’t needed or flat out doesn’t work. The fact the dialogue is at first glance surprising. While co-writer David Koepp certainly didn’t give us his best in 2015’s Mortdecai, he has written movies like Jurassic Park and several other solid action films. Also co-written by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie the writing seems lazily written by more than capable screenwriters.
The film slowly goes off the rails after a moderately exciting opening and set up. I like when movies do exposition well and explain ancient events in a timely and competent fashion. The Mummy does this. For what it is worth, it’s engrossing all the way through the plane crash sequence. From there on, Kurtzman loses focus, and what we are left with is a painfully inert action movie where none of the characters even seem interested in what they are doing. This is a film that isn’t sure what it wants to be. Is it an action-horror film? Action-comedy? Kurtzman certainly doesn’t know, and the audience is left with the impression it’s an action film with a horror movie villain, and a bad comedian as its hero.
Perhaps the most egregious sin The Mummy commits is taking itself way too seriously. In part, thats why the 1999 version is so well liked because of it’s corny but self aware and typical 90’s action fare style of filmmaking. As I mentioned, there are several ill-timed and badly written jokes forced into situations where it isn’t called for or truly doesn’t make sense.
The Mummy in an attempt to world build for the upcoming films in this franchise, sets off another distracting plot point with Crowe’s Dr. Jekkyl. Jekkyl introduces himself, exposes why he exists in this universe and it culminates in a cool fight scene. After its over however, it all seems utterly pointless. Jekkyl is likely the architect of this Dark Universe and one would assume he is going to play a Nick Fury (the guy who assembles the Avengers in the Marvel movie-verse) type role. All of that is fine. In fact, Iron Man and its sequel did a similar thing for the Marvel franchise.
But, Kurtzman, the real life architect of the Dark Universe, beats us over the head with the idea. We get it, you want to make more movies. It’s a capable team with some exciting properties like Frankenstein and Wolfman. The box office will indicate whether folks want more of this universe. I feel a sense of conflict due to the fact that on the surface there are some cool properties that could be great films. Be that as it may, I don’t want to see them force a universe if the films are going to be this poorly executed. I’ll leave with a little unsolicited advice, end the universe, make solo franchises and most importantly do with The Mummy what the Egyptians did with it, bury it for another 5000 years.