The Mummy - Dark Beginnings But Light in The Distance
Hollywood, they’re the original and best necromancers; continually bringing back their dead properties with a new lease of life...and occasionally they even come back better. Is it possible for anything to truly die in a studio back lot? Not even Joel Schumacher could kill off a property forever. They’re getting quicker and slicker at it too with as little as 2 or 3 years passing between some reboots. Will this be the cinematic apocalypse? When there’s no more room for originality, will only the dead film franchises walk the Earth? Let’s hope not but franchise reboots are not certainly here to stay while their existing awareness can translate into box office takings. Next from production schedule of the dead is Universal (not for the first time) rebooting their Mummy franchise despite the late 90s/early 00s incarnation still being quietly popular among many. The result is a very different incantation that won’t excite all of those old fans but may still attract some new followers.
In present day Iraq, the looting soldier Nick (Tom Cruise – Edge of Tomorrow) and archaeologist Jenny (Annabelle Wallis – Beaky Blinders) uncover the lost tomb of Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella – Kingsman). When Nick sets the ancient mummy free, he’s cursed to be her vessel for bringing the God of Death, Set, into this world.
Let’s begin with what Universal is trying to begin: The Dark Universe. You’ll have heard it mentioned and see it within the opening titles but what is it? It’s a monster mash-up cinematic universe reportedly planned for at least 10 films (this being the first) that will intertwine various classic monster characters to be an action/horror hybrid franchise. It’s a very peculiar beast because for the first half of the film, it’s mostly a source of misery. Much of the world-building feels forced and any time the film gains some momentum, the required heavy exposition stops it dead in its tracks. A particular section revolving around Russell Crowe’s character (no spoilers.... in case you haven’t already been spoiled) and the franchise’s equivalent of Shield really feels like intentionally filler for a half-time pee break. All the hieroglyphs all point towards another failed attempt at rushing into a cineverse.... only it isn’t. As the film develops, especially through the final act, the Dark Universe emerges into more of an inviting prospect with its pitch of monsters vs monsters, developing Cruise’s more generic lead character into an interesting protagonist and a clear end goal. It’s far from a flawless franchise setup, much still feels vague and undefined but I left genuinely intrigued to see where it’s going next.
The biggest treasure in this Mummy’s tomb is its action/horror tone. It delivers some really thrilling and fast-paced action sequences that make it well-suited for causal moviegoers looking for a more familiar Tom Cruise fix. They also feature more practical effects than the trailer footage implies. A first act plane crash sequence featuring an Inception corridor-style gravity shifting continuous shot is incredibly well-delivered. While it can’t better Rogue Nation’s air-sapping nail-biter, the underwater based final act set piece packs some terrific thrills. Although the camp fun nature of Brendon Fraiser’s Mummy trilogy is dead and buried, director Alex Kurtzman (Fringe) has managed to preserve some its appeal within these action sequences. Then there’s the horror imagery and character portrayal. Granted, it goes too far in attempts to make some characters sympathetic but it does achieve some good creepy imagery and jump scares. This is most notable in Ahmanet’s progression from shambling corpse to Queen of the Dammed. She spends most of her early post-unboxing scenes looking like The Ring’s Samara in bandages and looks great doing so.
Yet the film carries two big curses: its story and character chemistry. While the story finishes in the right place, the whole first act setup of stumbling across a tomb and introducing the main characters is something of a mess and most attempts inject lighter humour into it fall painfully flat. For much of the film, there is no real sense of direction other than emphasizing Cruise’s character being cursed/screwed. Even worse (and surprisingly so) is the terrible chemistry between Cruise and Wallais as leads with their reluctant romance subplot. I’m pointing the finger more at writer David Koepp (Inferno) because it’s the dialogue of their exchanges that keeps collapsing their love pyramid. It goes so overboard in graying either character’s intentions that it becomes difficult to invest in them as a pairing. Thankfully, this does improve in the final act as a product of their peril and circumstances but if these are to be the Dark Universe’s power couple, then they’re the ones needing a reboot.
I would certainly not call this Mummy reboot the failure many have labeled it because for all its problems and rushed Dark Universing, it does make for a passable summer blockbuster experience. But if you put Blue Rays of this and 1999s The Mummy in front of me I’d be watching Rick, Evie & Jonathon before you could say, “Immotep”. Don’t expect a 90s throwback and you may enjoy this incarnation. Be patient with the Dark Universe and you may like where it’s going…. and that’s a wrap.