Many who hear the title The Mummy likely think of the 1999 Brendan Fraser movie, its two sequels, and that spinoff with The Rock. This is not that movie. We all know Hollywood loves trends. Endless sequels, remakes, reboots, and breaking up movies into parts, have all been the bread and butter of the industry. The Mummy directed by Alex Kurtzman and starring Tom Cruise hops onto one of those bandwagons (remake) with one additional one. It’s part of the “Dark Universe.”
With the outstanding success by Marvel Studios, cinematic universes are now tickling every Hollywood executives fancy and Universal Studios is no exception. The Mummy is the first of many monster movies to exist within the same cinematic universe. It’s important to note this before getting started. Understanding what a movie sets out to do is a big part of figuring out whether or not it’s any good.
As a film production, The Mummy is excellent. It has solid direction by veteran writer and newcomer director Alex Kurtzman. Certain special effects sequences are off the charts fantastic. But for all its glitz and glamor, The Mummy doesn’t achieve what is most important especially when setting up a cinematic universe. It doesn’t create compelling, three-dimensional characters the audience wants to keep hanging out with long after the credits are over. By not coming close to this benchmark, it fails setting up its cinematic universe and, more importantly, it fails at making a good movie.
The Mummy is about an ancient Egyptian princess who is the rightful heir to the throne, but when her father has a son, she turns to darker forces to help her regain power. Committing herself to Set, the god of death, she kills her family. But for her crimes, she’s mummified alive and put into a sarcophagus. Thousands of years later, Nick (Tom Cruise) awakens her and is cursed because of it. He must come up with a way to break the curse before she kills him and bring Set into bodily form.
Kurtzman is known more for his writing than direction and he had a small hand in writing the story concept. However, his direction here is impressive. The shots serve the story well, giving it a grand cinematic scope an action adventure like this needs but it also did well with a few of the jump scares and horrific moments. It takes its time in places where it needs and builds tension just by keeping the camera on the action.
The special effects and actions sequences in The Mummy certainly shine. While flare can only take a movie so far, it is nice when it packs a punch and puts you deep in the action. To his credit, Kurtzman does this in spades. One of the best action scenes in the whole movie is when they’re in the military transport plane. It’s almost worth a second viewing because of that scene alone. Almost.
It’s a shame Kurtzman didn’t have a better script. With six writers on the project at one time or the other, there’s no question it suffered. While the tone, plot, and flow work, it’s characters fall flat and hard.
Tom’s Cruise performance isn’t anything incredible. He runs away. He shoots things. You know, the usual Tom Cruise stuff. He plays Nick, a cocky thief trying to find antiquities to sell on the black market. His character is a bit of a jerk and it’s difficult to care about him especially since we’re given nothing about who he is or where he came from or what he believes in. He believes in not dying which isn’t much. Because he has no emotional anchor or internal conflict, it’s difficult to empathize when he’s forced to make hard decisions.
However, out of all the characters, his is at least bearable. I can’t say the same about the others. His love interest and fellow adventurer Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) is essentially just a set piece to follow him around and get him from place to place. She provides very little value to the story. While the story wants the audience to care about her relationship with Nick, there’s nothing compelling about them or their relationship to make it happen. Consequently, the dramatic and emotional moments get brought down. It’s also sad movies continue to perpetuate damsel in distresses characters with no substance or growth. We should be way past this kind of storytelling, but clearly, we aren’t.
Even more unbearable is the character Chris Veil (Jake Johnston). He is a perfect case study on how not to do comic relief with a buddy side-kick. Running around with Nick, Chris acts like a funny coward, yelling and screaming the entire time. His badgering and hollering are supposed to be hilarious but it’s just plain grating. This problem reveals an error in the writing. It assumes the audience will empathize with the characters even before they’ve gotten to know them at all.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few diamonds in the rough. Russell Crowe’s performance is a breath of fresh air and makes things a little more interesting and Sofia Boutella as the Egyptian princess Ahmanet provides a fresh, charismatic, and intense portrayal of the mummy villain. In many ways, she steals the show away from Cruise. Keep your eyes on Boutella. Great things are likely in store for her career.
All in all, The Mummy is a great production with a hollow core. While it’ll likely be a fun thrill ride for summer moviegoers merely looking for a brainless action-adventure, it isn’t going to win over any die hards to the Dark Universe. If the studio’s ultimate goal is to make people thirst for more of their films and want to spend more time with their new characters, they failed. Consequently, The Mummy does as well.
Photos courtesy of: Universal Studios