The Mummy is a weird kind of middlebrow disaster – not such a painful one that it isn’t still sort of fun to watch, but not so much fun that it would register as a camp classic. It just sort of sits there, demonstrably bad and totally clueless about how to tell its story and build its world, but breezy enough that we watch it with half-smirk and half-quizzical frown.
It just sort of sits there, demonstrably bad and totally clueless about how to tell its story and build its world, but breezy enough that we watch it with half-smirk and half-quizzical frown.
The film is the first installment in Universal’s so-called “Dark Universe,” a cross-promotional world-building venture intended to update and commodify the classical Universal monster movies that were first glimpsed nearly a century ago. In essence, Universal wants to get its Marvel on, turning monsters into superheroes and cashing in on the crossover. The next planned installment is a Bride of Frankenstein remake to be directed by Bill Condon, currently in pre-production. On the basis of The Mummy, we may not even get that far. By the time we get to Bride’s planned 2019 release, “Dark Universe” may only remain as the butt of occasional jokes on Film Twitter.
But hey, the jokes will be about as purposely funny as The Mummy is unintentionally funny. Part of its oddity, however, is that it’s trying really hard to be funny, presenting itself as a veritable chucklefest with some gothic action thrown in for good measure. In another obvious swipe from the Marvel mold, the Dark Universe is actually pretty damn light, a riff-a-thon amid its would-be frightening framework. One might imagine screenwriters David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie would be able to pull off such a nimble balance between laughs and thrills, but here every beat is such a calculated act of belabored “laugh-at-me” jocularity that it’s hard to engage the screen with anything other than a side-eye.
Lost in all this discussion is that the movie is also a Tom Cruise vehicle, which automatically puts it at odds with itself. Can a film exist as both a “Tom Cruise Movie” and a franchise for which its classic high-concept origin is the selling point? The question is rhetorical, but The Mummy confirms an unequivocal “no” anyway. Cruise is such a star entity that he’s either going to swallow the spotlight and distract from the broader aims of the material, or he’s going to be diminished by the preponderance with said material. The Mummy suffers from a bit of both. It doesn’t help that Cruise is handed his least interesting character in literally a decade, even less interesting than Jack Reacher (though let’s keep it real, Jack Reacher is a monstrously worse film than even this one). It’s always refreshing to see Cruise in a role with a rollicking comedic bent, but he’s left flailing by a screenplay that’s unsure whether it’s a star vehicle or a franchise vehicle that features a star.
The film is the first installment in Universal’s so-called “Dark Universe,” a cross-promotional world-building venture intended to update and commodify the classical Universal monster movies that were first glimpsed nearly a century ago.
Oh, right, there’s a story – though hard telling what its implications are, since it changes its own rules from one sequence to the next. In essence, ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was mummified alive after murdering her father the king, but not before casting some sort of carryover spell that reignites if ever Ahmanet is sprung from her crypt. Cruise plays the jaunty thief who does the springing, an act which apparently also pins him as the princess’ supernatural errand boy, carrying out her evil deeds because she’s…too tired? A total diva? Or maybe because it’s a way to kinda-sorta make Cruise the titular character.
Quasi-mummified Cruise (not really sure if he’s alive or dead or somewhere in between, and watching the movie only compounds the confusion) romps about England with the bargain-bin version of Emily Blunt (her name is Annabelle Wallis, and she’s perfectly fine in the movie) en route to meeting Dr. Henry Jekyll (poor Russell Crowe), who is intended as the Dark Universe’s answer to Nick Fury. He’s viewed as a benevolent protector of freakish monsters, which makes it odd when he decides that Cruise should be killed. The two of them tussle a bit, providing an obligatory opportunity for Jekyll to transform into Hyde, before reconciling for no other purpose than so they can continue cameo-ing in would-be future Dark Universe installments. If all of this sounds spectacularly messy, then my review has succeeded. There’s no rhyme or reason to The Mummy…or maybe there are too many rhymes and reasons.
The Mummy is a weird kind of middlebrow disaster – not such a painful one that it isn’t still sort of fun to watch, but not so much fun that it would register as a camp classic.