2 out of 5 stars.
Disney has the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Warner Brothers has DC. And, not to be left behind, Universal Studios now has the Dark Universe, having announced remakes of many of the studio’s classic horror franchises, the plan being for them to take place in the same universe. That new series is being launched with a reimagining of the classic “The Mummy,” and if it is any indication, the Dark Universe is going to fall apart pretty darn quick.
Directed with virtually no style by Alex Kurtzman, the film opens with a sequence set in ancient Egypt and detailing the backstory of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who devises a deadly plan to take over the throne after her father and his wife have a son, who will overtake her as next in line for succession. Long story short, she is caught and mummified alive, and then we fast forward to present day Iraq, where U.S. soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) discover Ahmanet’s tomb after a botched invasion. They take her sarcophagus with them, but Ahmanet with her supernatural powers awakens, and things of course go downhill from there.
There were a lot of screenwriters on deck for this movie, and it shows. The story is all over the place. On the hand, it’s trying to create an origin story for the Mummy monster. On the other, it’s trying to set up Universal’s Dark Universe by introducing other characters who will likely become major players in the franchise. It’s trying to be scary, but it’s also trying to be action-y, and it’s trying to be funny in between all that. It’s trying to be about a living mummy seeking vengeance, and it’s trying to be about boosting Tom Cruise’s ego. But none of those elements ever come together to create a coherent whole. There’s nothing especially original about the film either, nothing that stands out enough to make it memorable in the way the 1932 Boris Karloff film did, or even 1999’s more light-hearted action/adventure romp starring Brendan Fraser. Any scenes that are interesting (for instance, at one point Nick must swim underwater with a bunch of mummies swimming after him) last for all of two seconds before we’re on to something else. And at a time in pop culture where the horror genre is dominated by everything zombies, it can’t be a coincidence that Ahmanet’s mummy army behaves more like stereotypical zombies.
It doesn’t help that the characters aren’t appealing in the slightest. Cruise plays the same cocky know-it-all hero who actually is a good person under all that that he’s always played, and yeah, he’s good at being that person, but that got tired a long time ago; he’s too old for this role, and for his costars. Vail is the comic relief of sorts, while Jenny’s character is clearly supposed to be intelligent and independent (which she is, don’t get me wrong), but she ends up needing Nick at the end anyway. Russell Crowe is also tossed in there as the scientist in charge of the Prodigium, an organization that’s vaguely in charge of ridding the world of all evil (think of it as their version of Marvel’s Avengers or DC’s Justice League. I guess).
Actually, the character with the most depth and most interesting character arc is the mummy herself, Princess Ahmanet. Boutella is a great actress, and she brings a lot to what little material she is given. But she’s wasted here playing an insanely jealous character whose primary goal in the film is to get Nick to like her so they can take over the world (she does get to punch him a lot though, and that is fun). It’s rather jarring to watch coming in right on the heels of “Wonder Woman,” which is such a marvelous portrayal of a female super-powered character. Another issue is that Ahmanet is so clearly not the main character in this film. In Universal’s old horror movies, the monster was almost always the primary focus. Here, the focus is on Nick, and honestly, who cares about that guy?
Universal’s classic monster movies ranged in tone from campy to creepy, humorous to profound. But this new “Mummy” succeeds at none of that. And if this film is any indication of what the next movies in the Dark Universe will be like (Universal has already announced plans for many more installments, including reboots of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” and “Invisible Man”), it’s off to a real shaky start.
Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.
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