Trying to keep pace with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and Warner Bros.’ DC Cinematic Universe, Universal brings its “Dark Universe” into the fray. The idea: tie together all of Universal’s old monster movie franchises like The Wolf-Man, Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon and others into one combined cinematic universe with a monster theme. While it might seem like a stretch, especially with characters with less of a following than the comic book heroes carrying the other franchises, Universal went ahead with its reboot of The Mummy, and got former biggest movie star in the world Tom Cruise to star.
The last Mummy franchise concluded back in 2008 with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and was less a horror franchise than an action-adventure series starring Brendan Fraser as a low rent Indiana Jones. The series lived and died on special effects, corny action movie tropes and Brendan Fraser’s goofy charm. Even with Tom Cruise attached to star, there was some hope that the new Mummy would bring less cheese and more scares. Instead, the new Mummy lives and dies on special effects, corny action movie tropes and Tom Cruise’s goofy charm. The end product is a movie that’s from a different time, and might have been a big hit, oh, back in 1999 when the first Brendan Fraser Mummy lit up the box office.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new Mummy is the main villain, Ahmanet, who happens to be female and portrayed by Sofia Boutella (of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame). Ahmanet seems like a formidable heavy, and starts off promising as she literally sucks the life out of her victims, but her storyline is dragged down by a romantic plot that has her desperate to revive the god of death through a male vessel, in this case that vessel is our hero and treasure hunter Nick Morton (Tom Cruise, of course).
Otherwise, just about everything else in The Mummy is either predictable and cliche, right down to its clunky screenplay, which six different writers worked on. Cobbling together the mess of a film, and fulfilling all the bullets on Universal’s checklist to build its Dark Universe upon, is notable hack Alex Kurtzman, whose accomplishments include writing credits on The Amazing Spider-man 2, Cowboys & Aliens and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The film is completely devoid of original vision or artistic intent, and assumes people will care about its mythology and universe more than anyone actually does.
Tom Cruise, ever the game movie star, tries his best to mug it up and keep the audiences entertained. While he occasionally succeeds, an admittedly impressive plane crash sequence about midway through the film stands as a highlight, more often he seems like he’s going through the motions. While a lot can be said about Cruise as a person and an actor, he always aims to please his fans, and The Mummy seems to be an all-time low as the star resigns himself to joining one of the cinematic universes that keeps so many others in his profession gainfully employed.
Russell Crowe, shoehorned in as a consultant for a monster hunting agency (or something like that?) as Dr. Henry Jekyll, gives a game performance, though his eye-rolling introduction nearly ruins his appearance. He has his obligatory transformation into Mr. Hyde, and it might (?) be interesting to see Crowe in the role for a movie that is actually about his character.
Otherwise, the rest of the cast are just there to fill the script’s needs. The pretty girl played by Annabelle Wallis of Annabelle fame, the comic relief played by Jake Johnson, the stern military man played by Courtney B. Vance; the actors couldn’t give actual depth or humanity to these characters if they tried. Wallis and Cruise’s forced romance is especially pathetic, with titular Mummy Boutella stealing much of the romantic thunder.
The Mummy gets Universal’s planned Dark Universe to a sputtering start, and the studio executives might want to give the whole endeavor a hard reset while it’s only one movie in. Movie stars like Cruise might not be able to will movies to success like they used to, but that does not mean that film companies can will a new cinematic series into existence just because one studio (Marvel, specifically) has done so with such success. These things take years of films that are captivating and enjoyable in their own right to work, assuming audiences will care about a series of planned movies revolving around known entities like King Arthur or classic movie monsters will only result in pain (for the audiences) and suffering (for the studios that poured millions of dollars into said films).