It had been long rumored that Universal Studios was planning to resurrect, no pun intended, their classic monsters, in an effort to create their own cinematic universe of connect movies. That time starts now, as The Mummy hits theaters worldwide. Meant to serve as the building block for a larger world of interconnected characters, lore, magic, gods, and of course monsters. If executed correctly, a cinematic universe of classic monster movies could be a great deal of fun, and be something entertaining, or it could end up being like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, and nobody wants that. Thankfully the start of the Dark Universe, as it is to be known, lies somewhere in the middle, as it isn’t a complete mess, but it also isn’t the home run Universal was hoping for.
The newest iteration stars Tom Cruise, in yet another action franchise for the actor, who is compelled at every turn to hurl himself out of every moving vehicle he can get his hands on. The film kicks off with Cruise and Jake Johnson, as military personnel who go out of their way to “liberate” antiquities, and stumble upon a long buried, being of pure evil, The Mummy, Princess Ahmanet. Right off the top what this film does really well is establish the history of whom Ahmanet was, and why she is to be feared. The flashback sequence, narrated by Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll, provides the audience with everything they need to know about where this film, and the Dark universe as a whole is going. It is one of the better aspects of this film, is that it does a really good job of establishing this universe where Monsters exist. While at times, this approach to the world building does a disservice to the film overall, the work that is done by Jekyll’s Prodigium, is some of the more interesting aspects of the story. In fact Crowe himself is one of the better parts of the movie as well, his portrayal of the famous Dr. Jekyll, has the right amount of campy fun, underlying the seriousness of the information and plan he possesses. That character never takes itself too seriously, which is good, since the concept at play here is pretty far fetched.
Once the Mummy Ahmanet is unearthed, the horror elements begin to set in. From the trailers the film was portrayed as more of a straight up action movie, and while that is definitely the predominant genre, there are enough sequences that call back to the Mummy’s history as a horror franchise that make it feel a bit different. Unfortunately these moments are a bit more spread out than they should be, as the film never feels as scary as it ought to. The scenes that are the most tense, also fail to have proper payoffs, or even jump scares, as they usually result in hordes of CGI zombie creatures, which are not nearly as scary, and ruin what had begun as a tense moment. Had the right balance been struck, The Mummy could have been a much better film, but part of the reason why this couldn’t be was due to such a large focus on setting up the larger universe. The action elements also are not as good as they could be, and many of them are very generic set pieces, most of which again, feature a horde of CGI creatures. There is one with spiders, one with rats, one with crows, and many with the zombie remains, all attacking Tom Cruise in some form or fashion. There is some good fight choreography during the film, but like all of the other elements being juggled, their placement leaves much to be desired.
As does Cruise’s performance, which is all over the place throughout the film, and changes drastically from scene to scene. One moment he is jokey, and smarmy, the next he is confused, and aloof, before quickly changing and kicking into action hero mode. The many personality traits make a bit of sense in the context of the story, however Cruise’s performance either can’t do it justice, or it is presented in such a jarring way, that it falls apart. His non verbal acting is also quite cheesy, and at no point do his action seem sincere, whether acting scared, worried, sad, or even happy. Cruise is never bad enough that it ruins the film, but he unfortunately is not able to carry the film the way the character needed to. A lot of the same could be said for Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, as her performance is extremely hollow, and her character is never fleshed out enough to be more than a damsel in distress. Her true motivations are also never fully revealed, as at times she seems to want to side with the Mummy, while at other times she seems hell-bent on taking her down. The inconsistencies ruin almost any potential for an interesting character, so she isn’t able to carry the film either. The Mummy herself, Sofia Boutella does a pretty good job in the role, as she is both menacing, and capable of presenting Ahmenet as a formidable foe, and the true embodiment of evil in this world. The way she carries herself has the regal quality that an Egyptian princess is often portrayed as having, with a strong will, and a desire to instill devotion, which comes across nicely in the film. One of the better performances in the film belongs to Jake Johnson, whose role in the film is a unique approach, and one that certainly should have been utilized more. Johnson is funny as a side character, but also different enough where he doesn’t come across as the typical action movie sidekick.
Ultimately The Mummy suffers from the same issues that have plagued many other films attempting to adapt to the cinematic universe, as it puts the future ahead of the present. The world building while interesting takes over, rather than being a supplementary piece of this film’s story, and leave the film worse off for it. The film isn’t a total loss, as there is enough here to make a middle of the road action film, but poor pacing, and less than stellar performances hold it back from being anything worth getting excited about. There is still hope for the Dark Universe from a story perspective after this film, but it will be an uphill battle for sure.