I know the idea of Universal starting a monster universe, now known as the “Dark Universe,” was a bit divisive amongst horror fans to say the least. However, I had some generally optimistic feelings for the idea. I grew up on the classic Universal monsters and, even though they weren’t the best in the series, loved the few films where the monsters collided and fought. If Universal was going to try and recapture that bit of nostalgia for me, I was all for it.
Unfortunately, it looks like they may have tripped right out of the gate.
“The Mummy” is Universal’s first entry in their “Dark Universe” series and it has the daunting task of sparking an interest in a whole series of sequels and spin-offs. In “The Mummy” Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a charming soldier/treasure hunter who is out in the desert looking for his next big score. Tagging along is his buddy Chris (Jake Johnson) who is your typical comedic relief sidekick. Morton’s latest adventure leads him to the discovery of an ancient tomb housing the remains of an evil princess by the name of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). This discovery leads to the release of Ahmanet who sets out to conquer the world bring forth the Egyptian god of death Set.
In a lot of ways this film plays out like a remake of the 1999 “Mummy” film starring Brendan Fraser. There are a lot of parallels between the two films such as Morton and O’Connor both being charming rogues who are capable fighters, but also a bit goofy. Then there’s Chris who plays the comedic sidekick/unwilling servant to the Mummy. Essentially taking on two roles (Benny and Johnathan) from the ’99 “Mummy.” And of course you have the book smart female companion. Hell, there’s even a scene where Ahmanet summons a giant sandstorm with her face on it just like the ’99 film! But being a quasi-remake isn’t the biggest issue this film has. The real problem is that it has a lackluster script designed to generate sequels and not be a good self-contained story.
Unfortunately “The Mummy” has the daunting task of giving birth to a cinematic universe. It’s a challenging prospect, but one that is doable as demonstrated by Marvel and Disney. The key to their success, though, is that before they started mixing and mashing characters together they built up strong standalone films to flesh out their universe. “The Mummy” doesn’t focus on making a good Mummy film and instead tries to make a platform for more stories. This leads to a lot of interesting ideas, but at the cost of a story that doesn’t feel cohesive.
And that’s a damn shame because there’s a lot in this movie that is well done. Even with a weak script we still get a lot of solid performances out of the leads. Tom Cruise is still a believable charismatic action star, despite getting up there in age, so he does an adequate job of carrying the film. Sofia Boutella does a fantastic job as the Mummy. She manages to walk a line between being terrifying and alluring that makes her portrayal of the mummy uniquely hers and not just a retread of previous iterations.
Russell Crowe also turns in a great performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Thankfully their interpretation of the character is more in line with the original intention of Jekyll. When he transforms into Hyde he doesn’t become a hulking monster, instead he is a more sinister version of himself. And Crowe does an excellent job of making that swing from a quiet unassuming doctor to a maniacal fiend. Crowe also has the task of dispensing a lot of the exposition, so his narrative skills are much appreciated.
The action set pieces are well conceived and executed, but not thrilling enough to help elevate the film above other big budget summer experiences. There are a few standout moments that nearly live up to the standard of recent Tom Cruise action flicks, but they fall just short of memorable. Unfortunately, the scares are similarly lackluster. There are plenty of painfully predictable jump scares, but nothing reaches the haunting tone of the original film or even the creepier moments of the ’99 film (i.e. the scarabs). However, I did find the over-the-top jerky motions of Ahmanet’s minions to be strangely unsettling.
Overall the performances and treatment of the Mummy and Dr. Jekyll give me a bit of hope for the other Universal monsters, but if they’re stuck in subpar movies than it won’t matter how well they’re treated. In fact, it’ll make the whole experience tremendously disappointing if Universal actually executes on creating great new versions of these monsters only to fail on giving them a proper narrative to grow in.
“The Mummy” shows the slightest glimmer of promise, but unfortunately a weak script and poor direction keep it from coming together and being a enjoyable product. If, like me, you were intrigued about the premise of the Dark Universe, I would say see “The Mummy” with the understanding that it’s not a great movie. There’s potential here, but now we just need to see if Universal can pull someone in to execute on it. If you had concerns about the Dark Universe, this movie will only confirm your suspicions. Here’s hoping “The Mummy” proves to be a lesson for other Universal monster film and not the template.