Editor’s Note: The Mummy opens in wide theatrical release today, June 9, 2017.
Studios never learn. With Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC launching shared cinematic universes respectively, banking billions at the box office in the process, their Hollywood-based rivals were bound to try to do the same thing or die trying (metaphorically speaking). Paramount, for example, has plans in place expand the Transformers series into an interconnected, overlapping universe filled with sequels, spin-offs, and prequels (merchandizing too, of course). Digging deep into its back catalog, Universal found itself short on spandex-wearing superheroes and long on century-old, Gothic-inspired monsters. Even with talk about spinning off the seemingly indestructible Fast & Furious series, Universal wanted more than an old-school, sequel-dependent franchise. They wanted what Disney and Warner Bros.’ have, but if The Mummy remake/reboot-re-whatever is any indication, Universal might just have to rethink the whole “Dark Universe” concept and either start from scratch (see 2014’s Dracula: Untold for an example of a recent one-and-done effort) or ditch it altogether and go back to standalone horror films crafted around the old-school monsters they own.
It might come as a shock, but The Mummy tries to be all things to all people (minus critics, since they don’t count), stumbling between genres (action, horror, comedy) with little tonal consistency.
It’s all probably for the best, but don’t tell that to Tom Cruise. Well into his fourth decade as an international movie star, Cruise always gives his all to every role, regardless of quality (or lack thereof). Stitched together from narrative bits and pieces culled from An American in London (minus the bloody, gory dark comedy), Lifeforce (minus the campy mix of sci-fi and horror), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (absent the tonally perfect mix of high-adventure and supernatural fantasy), The Mummy shuffles into view not with the proverbial bang – practically a requirement for Hollywood-made action films – but the equivalent of a whimper: Two exposition-heavy prologues (because why have one prologue when you can have two), one detailing a magically empowered dagger hidden away in the bowels of medieval London (hence the Knights Templar) and the other the horror- and tragedy-free origin of the title character, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess so wicked, so evil (she commits regicide/patricide and fratricide to obtain her father’s throne) that her enemies buried a thousand miles away in Iraq.
Cruise finally makes his entrance in modern Iraq, a rogue, non-commissioned Army officer, Nick Morton, doubling up recon missions with the hunt for ancient artifacts he can liberate and sell on the black market. Morton’s redemption journey is set from the start: Over the next two hours, Morton will evolve from a zero to a hero, setting aside his ego, narcissism, and greed to save the world or at least his one-time bedmate, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist not-so-secretly employed by Prodigium, a super-secret, private organization led by Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Russell Crowe) to fight all kinds of supernatural evil. Morton’s greed, though, gets the better of him after he opens Ahmanet’s long-buried tomb and finds her sarcophagus under a pool of mercury. Eager to trade in his discovery for hard cash, Morton throws caution into a sandstorm and helps to move Ahmanet’s sarcophagus onto a U.S. Air Force cargo plane. Almost immediately, he falls under Ahmanet’s spell. She might still be an inanimate mummy wrapped in millennia-old scraps, but she can get into Morton’s headspace (hint: it’s empty).
Alex Kurtzman and his screenwriting team can’t decide what kind of film he wanted to make, resulting in a shambling, rambling, dispiriting mess that that’s more likely to end Universal’s shared universe experiment before it begins.
Despite a “blame the patriarchy” rationale for Ahmanet’s behavior (she just wanted to inherit her father’s throne) that can be easily twisted into misogyny (she’s evil because she refuses to accept her place in the natural order), Ahmanet isn’t even The Mummy’s Big Bad: In exchange for her eternal devotion to Set, the Egyptian God of Death, she gets to live forever (more or less), control sandstorms and crows, and create an entire army of the undead via her soul-sucking power (insert Lifeforce reference here). She’ll be a super-powerful queen, albeit a queen who has to answer to the God of Death for all eternity. And Morton? Since an international movie star plays the protagonist, he gets to be the “Chosen One,” Set’s earthly host. To make the transition from mortal to Set’s Cruise-shaped vessel, Ahmanet (the “penultimate” evil to Set’s “ultimate” iteration), has to complete a ritual involving Morton and a one-of-a-kind dagger (location: London and the recently unearthed Knights Templar chamber).
An effects-driven plane crash rudely interrupts Morton’s flight back to London with Ahmanet’s sarcophagus, but his “Chosen One” status, not to mention Cruise’s real-world status as a bankable leading man, means he’ll survive to star in the sequel(s) or make guest appearances in future Dark Universe entries (if any), but as a best-in-film set piece, it also means it’s all downhill set piece and action wise from there. Outside of a cringe-worthy scene involving eerily convincing CGI rats attacking Morton in London or Dr. Jekyll’s singular freakout inside Prodigium’s poorly designed offices, The Mummy unfolds in fits and starts, stopping here for longwinded exposition (apparently Dr. Jekyll’s favorite pastime), stopping there for an unconvincing romantic scene between Morton and Halsey (because one-night stands are practically the equivalent of a long-term relationship in the Dark Universe), with the occasional catch-up scene featuring Ahmanet taking a stroll around London, hanging out (literally) in Prodigium’s underground offices, or playing mind games with the beleaguered Morton.
It might come as a shock, but The Mummy tries to be all things to all people (minus critics, since they don’t count), stumbling between genres (action, horror, comedy) with little tonal consistency or stalling Ahmanet and Morton’s final, life-changing meet-and-greet for more universe-building and franchise setting (insert multiple yawns here), without telling a complete, coherent, or compelling story. Screenwriter-turned-director Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us, Star Trek, Fringe) and his screenwriting team (in addition to Kurtzman, five other writers officially contributed to The Mummy’s script) can’t decide what kind of film he wanted to make, resulting in a shambling, rambling, dispiriting mess that that’s more likely to end Universal’s shared universe experiment before it begins. Universal just proved how difficult, if not impossible, it can be to create a shared cinematic universe without superheroes to call your own.
Screenwriter-turned-director Alex Kurtzman and his screenwriting team -- in addition to Kurtzman, five other writers officially contributed to The Mummy’s script -- can’t decide what kind of film he wanted to make, resulting in a shambling, rambling, dispiriting mess that that’s more likely to end Universal’s shared universe experiment before it begins.