Like me, you were probably wondering WHY?! When you heard Universal was going to make The Mummy, with Tom Cruise, even. I remember hearing the news two years ago, and I didn’t believe it at first. Other than the original Karloff classic, and Christopher Lee playing the title role in the 60s, the most memorable version is the Stephen Sommers trilogy headed by Brendan Fraser – and when I say memorable, I don’t mean in a good way. I didn’t like these lame PG-13 CGI fests whatsoever. The first one is the best of the series, and the others are not worth talking about, but I really objected to the content. To take a recognized, classic horror property and beef it up into a plot-driven, faintly Indiana Jonesesque action movie was an awful idea. This latest version is no better.
By now, almost everyone knows that this is Universal’s first movie in their prospective Dark Universe franchise, an attempt to muscle in on the action currently being carved up by Marvel and DC, to varying degrees of success. To me, the idea is utterly stupid – but not just because I’m a huge fan of the classic era of Karloff, Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. The first thing that came to mind was: in the last few years we’ve seen multiple versions of Frankenstein (I, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, the miserable bastard of TV’s Penny Dreadful) and a Dracula movie as recently as 2014 (Dracula Untold) – I’m even writing one myself! My point being these characters are filmed so frequently, what can Universal bring to the table to prevent the public from yawning at the concept?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know that the right thing to do is not to turn the stable of classic monsters into would-be action movie villains, and I know that because I watched Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy just the other day. If you read my review of A Cure For Wellness, you’ll know I complained a lot about overplotting in movies, and with the involvement of Kurtzman on the story side, I knew going in it would be an overstuffed piece of fluff. Along with fellow hacks like Robert Orci, Damon Lindelof and Simon Kinberg, he has somehow been able to turn a stupendous lack of writing talent into bank balances with lots of zeroes. What they all have in common is an inability to create meaningful characters to populate their formula works, with the end result being forgettable, generic garbage propped up by tens millions of dollars spent on CGI. Their characters don’t so much have dialogue, they speak sentences that are cobbled together from other people’s action movies, and as plot-driven as they are, many of the plot points are uninspired and serviceable at best. Kurtzman and Orci co-wrote The Amazing Spider Man 2 – nuff said, True Believer.
In this latest version of The Mummy, Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, who is picked by the villainous Mummy, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) as the guy who will help her rule the world, or something. In order to do this, she has to complete the process that was interrupted back in ancient Egypt, which involved allowing Set, the Egyptian god of death to walk the Earth via a human sacrifice, mostly for no reason to the story other than it would be pretty bad. After a series of mostly inane scenes chronicling the conveniently quick and easy discovery and extraction of Ahmanet’s sarcophagus, The Mummy then shifts location to England, via a decent plane crash scene. The movie isn’t completely terrible up to that point, but then it gets there quickly. Cruise wakes up in a morgue, toe tagged in a zippered-up body bag even, but when he’s discovered as being alive (presumably the toe tag and body bag meant he had already been declared dead) by three people, the next scene suddenly switches to Cruise and bland costar Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) taking off in search of the action. See, this is what I mean by shitty, plot-driven writing. There isn’t a real human emotion anywhere to be found in the movie. It’s all about getting from one action scene to the other with minimal fuss, something that this group of writers are experts at. By default, of course.
After that, there are numerous scenes of Cruise whacking Ahmanet’s undead slaves that all feel the same. While the plot points come thick and fast, there’s no real sense of the stakes being raised. Sure, we’re told how bad things are getting, but visually, and in terms of plot, the feeling of escalation just isn’t there. In fact, the plot actually halts a couple of times in order to gratuitously seed the movie with elements of future “Dark Universe” entries, mostly revolving around the character of Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll and his secret organization that feels like a completely Xeroxed version of the BPRD from Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy movies, only much less interesting. This isn’t really a spoiler, but when Jekyll eventually turns in to Hyde, it is completely underwhelming. From an earlier scene you might be expecting something dramatic, or visually impressive (given the nature of the movie), but what you get is Russell Crowe with what looks like a dirty face and a Cockney accent. I would have hated a retreaded version of the character from The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie, but this version is rubbish too, for different reasons.
That’s just one of many creative mistakes made in this movie. Cruise’s dialogue is horrendous at times – especially when he verbalizes events that we have already seen happening, and things that we can see ARE happening. It might be how regular people might talk, but movie dialogue is not how real people talk, and when Morton and Halsey find themselves unintentionally returning to a location, we don’t need Morton saying words to the effect of “I can’t believe I drove back to this location”, we need him to yell “WHAT THE HELL?!” in complete astonishment, something to let us understand just how much Ahmanet is messing with his mind. It’s also a misstep when Cruise’s arc comes to an end, especially in the way things are concealed visually. It’s the moment that is likely going to be the thread that ties the Dark Universe together, but after all that’s come before to get to this point, there’s no payoff.
There’s also an element to this movie that’s maybe the worst of the lot – throughout, there are a number of scenes that are meant to play as humourous, but to say they fall flat is a disservice to that particular cliché. Jake Johnson (from TV’s New Girl) is given the plum role of Jack Goodman, who pops up after death to mess with best friend David Kessler’s mind now and – oh wait, sorry, that’s from An American Werewolf In London. The barely-disguised plagiarism momentarily confused me. There’s a scene where Ahmanet’s hands crawl over Morton’s torso. It’s a fairly dramatic scene … but he laughs because it’s ticklish. Scenes like this – badly written scenes like this – imbue the movie with a schizophrenic quality to its lasting detriment. There’s no rule that says horror movies can’t have humour – there absolutely should be, but it should come from character, not situation to have effect. Though as noted, there’s almost nothing about this movie that makes it horror, but it doesn’t mitigate “funny” scenes that are not funny whatsoever.
So yeah, the movie is pretty awful, and with mediocre box office, it could do for Universal’s Dark Universe what Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur flop did for that would-be six-movie franchise. I also question Cruise’s choice to topline it too. I won’t deny that for a guy his age, he makes other men in their 30s look bad, and he’s in fine form in this movie too … but how long is he going to be able to look the way he looks and act the way he acts over the course of a franchise, especially when there doesn’t appear to be any other movies actually being filmed right now. As of me writing this, only Bride of Frankenstein has been given a release date of February, 2019, and that gives cause for concern. Marvel got it right by releasing their movies close together, and Warners/DC look to be finally using the same business model, but it already looks like Universal’s concept doesn’t have the power of faith behind it, and that could ultimately prove deadly to it’s chances. One last thing – don’t bother sitting through the end credit roll hoping to see a lead-in scene, because there’s none. Sure, Marvel have turned this into an art form, but it works tremendously well with audiences, especially for this kind of shared universe concept. By not having one for The Mummy, it’s just more proof that Universal is just not committed to their own concept.
© Andrew Hope, 2017