Guilty of overreach; Universal's eagerness to debut its Dark Universe saddles The Mummy with more responsibility than it can bear.
"I hope it scares the shit out of you!” declared both Messrs Cruise and Crowe at the Sydney premiere of The Mummy, confirming that this was indeed to be a darker, more adult take on the successful movie franchise. A horror film, in essence; a hark back to the heady days of Val Lewton and the 1930s Gothic monster flicks that helped put Universal on the map.
Only...The Mummy is also peppered with comedic moments, meaning it’s really better described as a ’Horror Comedy’ in the vein of, say, Sean Of The Dead or Cabin In the Woods.
However, its leading man Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is also a special forces recon soldier whose opening scene sees him dropping hellfire missiles on Iraqi insurgents, so…’Action Horror Comedy’, perhaps.
And yet, right after that opening scene we meet Cruise’s on again / off again love interest and globe-trotting archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), hence nudging The Mummy closer to a ‘Romantic Action Horror Comedy’.
And, of course, before any of this happens we’ve already seen the Universal icon transform into the ‘Dark Universe’ logo, establishing The Mummy as Universal’s opening salvo in the expansive, world-building game heretofore occupied by Marvel and DC.
So...really, it’s a 'Romantic Action Horror Comedy Franchise-Founder’? Ugh, no wonder it all gets a little lost in the details.
In short, The Mummy is a film guilty of overreach. Whether by studio interference or writer/director miscalculation, it tries to achieve an impossible number of simultaneous feats, peppering you with character cameos (Russell Crowe plays Dr Henry Jekyll and, yes, the 'other guy'), easter egg tempters for future franchise instalments (Bride of Frankenstein is next in line, followed by The Invisible Man, Dracula, The Wolfman and all the other Gothic-era classics) and, of course, all the while trying to tell and advance The Mummy’s story, too. That it feels like it happens in that order of priority is perhaps the movie's greatest downfall, because - on its own - the mummy's side of things is pretty darned solid.
In the titular role we find this time a female mummy, Ahmanet, portrayed by the wonderful Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond). After Ahmanet's assured reign over Egypt is suddenly wrenched from her by the birth of a baby brother, she forms a pact with Set - the God of Death - and embarks upon a killing spree before being entombed alive and erased from history. Erased, that is, until Cruise and his sidekick Chris (a clumsy, unnecessary turn by Jake Johnson) stumble upon the sarcophagus and awaken the rough beast from its twenty centuries of stony sleep.
From that moment on, The Mummy is a film with an identity crisis. Its mummy affairs are entertaining, action-packed and even scary at times, particularly through its use of the zombie henchmen reanimated by Ahmanet after she’s sucked the life force out of them. The comedy doesn’t fit with Cruise’s performance and he has zero chemistry with Wallis, but it’s still a more engaging series of action sequences than, say, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2.
Its Dark Universe affairs, on the other hand, are its downfall. So much is mentioned yet left unexplored, and not in a way that can simply be excused as ‘pre-cursors’. As marvel has repeatedly demonstrated, a single 10 second shot at the end of a film’s credits can capably foreshadow all that is to come in future films without detracting from the story being told in the present. Left to its own devices, The Mummy might well have soared as a classic monster movie from a bygone era. Instead, it’s a confused jumble of scenes and characters that undermine and trip each other up at every possible turn.