Release Date: June 9, 2017
Running Time: 120 minutes
Universal Pictures kicks off its Dark Universe monster franchise with a weak reboot of The Mummy that inexplicably stars Tom Cruise. What Cruise is doing in a reboot of The Mummy remains a mystery. Maybe he wants a back-up franchise in the unlikely event Mission: Impossible meets an untimely death. But it’s clear from the get-go that Cruise is not making much of an effort to place the burden of launching an ambitious slate of horror-tinged action adventures—based on Universal’s classic monster films of the 1930s—on his shoulders. This is never more evident than during a scene when his U.S. military operative/tomb raider Nick Morton is told he is cursed for an eternity for stupidly releasing an evil ancient Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella) from her previously hidden burial ground in Iraq. Reacting to this news, Cruise hems and haws in such a way that suggest he’s not taking Morton’s situation with the seriousness The Mummy requires of him. Also, his Morton is supposed to be a charismatic rogue—aka an archetypal Tom Cruise hero—but Cruise turns down the charm so much, and displays so little derring-do, that Morton exudes less personality than a pile of old, dusty bandages. Which is odd because Cruise usually delivers a highly committed performance regardless of whether a film is below his talents. And The Mummy is beneath his talents. So The Mummy is a rarity because it finds Cruise unengaged from his character and the situation at hand. Then again, The Mummy, which owes more to the recent Brendan Fraser trilogy than the 1932 Universal original, definitely needs Cruise more than Cruise needs The Mummy. For starters, it’s too soon to remake The Mummy. It seemed like only yesterday that Fraser and Rachel Weisz were battling the resurrected Egyptian priest Imhotep in the 1999 version of The Mummy that successfully channeled the “Saturday morning serial” spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Heck, the final installment of Fraser’s Mummy trilogy came out in 2008. So a new Mummy is about as necessary as The Amazing Spider-Man was in 2012. Bearing this in mind, the story seems way too familiar despite the gender role reversals and the modern-day setting. Not even the introduction of Prodigium—the Dark Universe’s very own S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization devoted to hunting down and destroying monsters that’s led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (the appreciably subdued Russell Crowe)—can wipe away the cobwebs from a tale that’s almost as old and decayed as the Mummy. This wouldn’t matter if co-writer/director Alex Kurtzman set out to make a scary Mummy that stood in contrast to the 1999 version or adhered to the ambiance of the 1932 original. Instead, Kurtzman focuses on mounting action set pieces for Cruise that just so happen to feature the undead. Kurtzman may have contributed as a writer to such franchises as The Amazing Spider-Man, Star Trek and Transformers, but as a director he displays little feel for action (or horror, for that matter). The best Kurtzman can offer comes early in The Mummy, when a U.S. military plane carrying Princess Ahmanet’s sarcophagus loses power and falls out of the sky, leaving its passengers tumbling around the plane’s cargo hold ping-pong balls in a raffle drum. Also, Kurtzman’s decision to use naturalistic lightning means that the fights that occur at night or in newly discovered tombs are so shrouded in darkness that it makes it impossible to make out what is going on. This does work to Kurtzman’s advantage because the undead—whether they are played by actors or are computer generated—look cheesier than anything seen in 1985’s Lifeforce. Sofia Boutella is a force to be reckon with as Princess Ahmanet, and it’s a pleasure to watch her beat Cruise black and blue in her bid to subdue him and use his body to host an evil entity that would transform him into a living god. The combination of Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Mummy and the upcoming Atomic Blonde proves that Boutella is an action star in the making, one who deserves her own franchise, not this moldy reworking of an existing property. Some of the intimate moments shared between Boutella and Cruise, though, generate more laughs because of the ham-fisted way they are staged and edited. While Boutella cuts a striking figure in The Mummy, the same cannot be said about Annabelle Wallis’ Prodigium agent Jenny Halsey, who is reduced to nothing than a damsel in distress. If only co-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who directed Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and gave us Rebecca Ferguson’s no-nonsense MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, had exerted enough influence on The Mummy to allow Wallis to be more than Cruise’s potential love interest. As Morton’s sidekick Sgt. Chris Vail, Jake Johnson represents all that is wrong with The Mummy when it comes to the humor that Kurtzman tries to injected into the proceedings. Johnson goofs it up as Vail, who serves no purpose in The Mummy beyond spouting exposition-driven dialogue in jokey fashion. Given Vail is as cursed as Morton, Kurtzman attempts to create a dynamic between Johnson and Cruise that’s similar to the one the existed between David Naughton and his dead pal Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London. He doesn’t pull it off. This and other attempts to lighten The Mummy with humor comes across as forced and distracting. Even Cruise looks uncomfortable spitting out some poorly written wisecracks. How Kurtzman has—if at all—set the tone for future installments of the Dark Universe remains to be seen. But if this the path that the Dark Universe is going to follow, Universal Pictures may quickly run into DC Extended Universe-like problems with its attempt to go monster mashing. The Mummy fails to establish Prodigium as anything more than a shady, secret organization that’s led by a man with his own dark side. While there are plenty of Easter Eggs in the Prodigium HQ that possibly tie into the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Kurtzman does nothing to pique our curiosity about Prodigium and its mission. He also makes no effort to develop Crowe’s scientist beyond our prior knowledge of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s really hard to see how Prodigium will be integrated into the next Dark Universe entry, 2019’s Bride of Frankenstein. Hopefully Bill Condon, a huge fan of James Whale’s 1935 original and the director of the Whale-focused Gods and Monsters, will all but ignore the existence of Prodigium to give us a romantic tragedy that isn’t bound to The Mummy. Prodigium is better suited to play a prominent role in such proposed Dark Universe offerings as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, and The Werewolf. “The past cannot remain buried forever,” Dr. Jekyll warns us early in The Mummy. But the monsters of Universal Pictures’ of the 1930s will remain buried if the Dark Universe does not attempt to improve upon The Mummy.
Aired: June 8, 2017
Web site: http://www.themummy.com