The Mummy is the first entry in what Universal is calling The Dark Universe, its unique attempt to join in on the cinematic universe trend by resurrecting its classic movie monsters from the 1930s-1950s and tying them together with an overarching narrative. Alas, it’s also a pretty bad film, a hodgepodge of half-baked narrative ideas, lackluster entertainment, and failed world building, to the extent that it’s kind of fascinating in a morbid sort of way.
The film stars Tom Cruise as Nick Mortan, a cavalier treasure hunter who discovers and inadvertently awakens the titular mummy, played by Sofia Boutella. She decides that he is the perfect host to hold the spirit of the Egyptian God of the Dead, Set, and places a curse on him. While trying to discover a way to break his curse and defeat her, Nick encounters Prodigium, an organization dedicated to finding and fighting the supernatural, headed by Russel Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that Dr. Jekyll), and learns about a “new world of gods and monsters.”
That all sounds like the makings of an entertaining picture, but none of it works on an execution level. To begin, the movie can’t make up its mind about what genre it’s trying to be. Sometimes it plays like a straight horror film, other times as a McGuffin-fueled Indiana Jones-style adventure, still other times as a dark comedy (think An American Werewolf in London), and also occasionally as a promotional video for the Dark Universe as a whole. Unfortunately, none of its approaches work on their own, nor do they blend to make anything satisfactory. The frequent genre changing makes for a very erratic, incoherent kind of film, not aided by the picture’s questionable editing. What’s worse is that it will seemingly switch genres midway through a scene, such that you’re not quite sure how you’re supposed to feel while watching it. Moreover, in the case of all the Dark Universe setup that the film tries to do, it actually awkwardly shifts attention away from the main story for a while in order to explain the specifics of Prodigium and the existence of other monsters in this world (to be seen later). It’s a glaring narrative sidestep and a questionable move at best.
Honestly, it’s a little ironic that this film was made with the expressed purpose of kicking off an expanded universe, when that expanded universe is one of its main issues. This picture really is hobbled by it’s need to explain this world to the audience and promise that there is more to come. I really just wish that this had been a straight forward, no-nonsense horror film with only hints of a larger universe, rather than this self-hindering attempt to replicate the likes of the MCU. Sometimes it’s better to start simpler before going all out with stuff like that.
As I think over these issues of plot structure and genres, I get the sense that this movie probably got tampered with quite a bit as it was made, with the usual executive-level rewrite/reshoot/re-edit decisions that muck up a film’s production and lead to the kind of genre dissidence and flow problems that this picture suffers from. And given what we know about the micromanaging disasters of other cinematic universes, this may have been worse than normal on this picture. In that sense, this movie is definitely a camel (in the “horse designed by a committee” sense of the word). It also probably doesn’t help that this is only the director Alex Kurtzman’s second directing gig ever*, meaning he probably hasn’t reached his potential yet.
Apart from those story problems, and whatever caused them, the movie is lacking in general entertainment value. The action isn’t particularly captivating, the visual effects are rather dull, the jokes made by the characters aren’t funny, and the performances from the cast largely fail to impress. Tom Cruise’s acting is absolutely wooden in this picture (and at 54 he really is getting too old to be playing the leads in these kinds of films). Sofia Boutella admittedly gives a somewhat interesting performance as the Mummy (the gender flip is definitely an intriguing angle), though she doesn’t get enough screen time to really make it work. Annabelle Wallis, who plays an archaeologist and Cruise’s love interest, is a walking cliché. Jake Johnson, who plays Cruise’s comic relief sidekick, is absolutely annoying for the time he’s on screen. I don’t know how anyone will find him funny; I certainly didn’t. Conversely, Russell Crowe is absolutely hilarious as Dr. Jekyll**, although A) I’m pretty sure this wasn’t intentional (I think it’s just bad writing that accidentally became funny) and B) again, his character and the rest of the Prodigium plot points mostly just distract from the story at hand.
At this point I’m not really sure about the future of this whole Dark Universe. The Mummy seems to be making a decent amount of money (on a global level, anyways), which indicates that the public is interested in the idea of a monster-based cinematic universe; but the movie will likely leave a bad taste in most viewers’ mouths and inspire little love for this franchise, which threatens the viability of future films in this continuity. If they do decide to stick with it, Universal will have to really turn things around with their next pictures. Personally, I hope they do. I’m all for a Dark Universe, I just want to be scared by the monsters in these films, not the quality of the films themselves.
But for now, unless you’re a die hard Tom Cruise fan, have an unwavering interest in anything related to Egypt, or just really want to see how not to kickoff a cinematic universe, I would recommend skipping this film. Sorry, but it’s just not worth it.
*Although to be fair, Wonder Woman‘s Patty Jenkins only directed one film prior as well.
**In case you were wondering, yes, he does become Mr. Hyde in the movie.