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The Mummy Review: Not A Bad Way To Start A Dark Universe

The Mummy seemed like a cash grab from the moment it was announced. Universal has been trying to launch a universe of their own, featuring classic movie monsters associated with the studio, including Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man, for years. The Mummy is essentially the studio going “all in” to jump start what is now called Dark Universe. Casting a star as large as Tom Cruise initially read as an attempt to make up for shortcomings in other areas. When you don’t have much else, attach the biggest movie star in the world, and your film will sell (maybe)! Additionally, though the first movie came out in 1999, the Brendan Fraser lead Mummy franchise is still fresh enough in the public’s mind that starting a new universe with The Mummy seemed like a strange choice. So, is The Mummy just another ill-advised attempt to launch a universe, cashing in on Cruise’s fame to sell tickets?

With all these elements potentially working against it, The Mummy is much better than it has any right to be. The Tom Cruise trick worked on me, as he was really the only selling point in my mind; I wasn’t interested in another Mummy film, or a new movie universe. Tom Cruise may have put my butt in that seat, but The Mummy works and is very entertaining! Overall, it’s a good summer movie. At certain points, it’s great! The movie does stumble here and there, much like the traditional mummies of classic cinema, not earning all its emotional moments, due to a rushed pace and the inclusion of some very flat characters.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are self-proclaimed “liberators of precious antiquities,” traveling around modern day Iraq, seeking out treasure before the insurgents arrive in the area and destroy all the precious artifacts. When a map, stolen from Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), leads Nick and Chris to a village where they come under siege, an airstrike uncovers an ancient tomb with a sarcophagus belonging to Ahmahet (Sofia Boutella). Ahmahet was heiress to the throne in ancient Egypt, until her father had a son with a new wife.  In order to secure her spot on the throne, Ahmahet made a deal with Set, described as the Egyptian God of Death, and slaughtered her father and baby brother before being captured and imprisoned. Ahmahet was buried in Mesopotamia (Iraq, on modern maps), and not Egypt, as what Nick has discovered is not actually a tomb, but a prison. After recklessly freeing Ahmanet in the pursuit of profit, Nick becomes Ahmanet’s Chosen, who she needs to help her rise to her rightful place as ruler of the world.

The Mummy is director Alex Kurtzman’s second feature, following 2012’s People Like Us, which is a very different film in a very different genre. Yet, Kurtzman is no stranger to blockbusters of this nature. Prior to his directing efforts, he made a career writing Mission: Impossible III, two Transformers films, 2009’s Star Trek and its sequel, Cowboys & Aliens, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, all with his writing partner Roberto Orci. Kurtzman didn’t write The Mummy, but he shares story credit with Jon Spaits (Doctor Strange, Passengers), and Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married). The screenplay was worked on by David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park), Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation), and Dylan Kussman. That list should give you a fairly accurate expectation for the quality of The Mummy. At times it can be as good as Star Trek,  Doctor Strange, or the Mission: Impossible films, while at other points the quality is more akin to Transformers, or Passengers.

In addition to an impressive line-up of blockbuster writers, the film’s cast includes Tom Cruise (obviously), Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond), Jake Johnson (Jurassic World), Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story), and Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur).

The Mummy attempts to strike a tone similar to the Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean films, intertwining supernatural and horror elements with comedy, both in the form of jokes and the occasional physical humor during action sequences. If “liberators of precious antiquities” has an anti-Indiana Jones sound to it, that is very intentional. Nick may not want to see precious artifacts destroyed, but they belong in his pocket, not a museum. Nick is a sort of amalgam of Indiana Jones and his Ethan Hunt character from Mission: Impossible, with a far less visible heart of gold. The Mummy still borrows the adventure atmosphere, subtle laughs, and even creepy critters (Spiders! Birds! Rats!) from Indiana Jones, without losing itself in the homage or achieving the greatness of those classic films. The Mummy even has an Indiana Jones style McGuffin, of sorts.  The mummy zombies Ahmanet is able to create brings more of that “ghost pirate” supernatural/horror element into play, hence the further similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean, as well.

The Mummy‘s main issue is consistency. Sometimes the humor, action, and pacing really click, providing some fantastic scenes, expertly brought to life by the cast and Kurtzman. I keep referencing Indiana Jones and Pirates because they excel in physical humor featured during what would otherwise be deadly serious action scenes, and The Mummy has that in spades. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching action star Tom Cruise, who always comes out on top in a fight in any other film, rush into battle with confidence, only to be smacked around like a rag doll. Likewise, though humor is absent in this scene, the plane crash featured so heavily in the trailers is Tom Cruise at his best. There’s a long take (long for a near weightless scene, shot in a diving airplane, at least) where Tom Cruise moves through a nearly zero-gravity space with grace. It’s rather impressive, something you could never fake, and Cruise makes it look so effortless.

The other highlight of The Mummy is Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe), and his other personality, front and center in one of the film’s best scenes. Henry runs the organization known as Prodigium, whose goal it is to “recognize, contain, examine, and destroy evil.” Henry refers to evil as a disease, one he is very familiar with, having to inject himself often to not risk turning into Eddie Hyde. I love how Prodigium’s mission is to fight evil, while Henry literally fights it off every day on a personal level.

At times however, the jokes just don’t land, and some scenes don’t pack the emotional punch, or carry the high stakes the film is attempting to reach. The hilarious Jake Johnson is wasted here, mostly with Cruise and Crowe delivering a majority of the laughs. Aside from Dr. Henry Jekyll, all the players, including Nick, seem to be archetypes more than original developed characters who actually undergo real growth. Nick fits the, “con-man with a heart of gold” role so rigidly that it hurts, and Jenny is a pretty flat, damsel in distress. Boutella is more memorable as Ahmanet than the Mummy from Brendan Fraser’s films, but she still isn’t given as much to do as she was in Star Trek Beyond or Kingsman: The Secret Service.

RELATED: Will The Mummy And Following Dark Universe Films Have Post-Credits Scenes?

The sand storm sequence in London, seen in the trailer, is a bit of a dud compared to the rest of the action. In a climate where most Hollywood finales are going smaller scale to avoid large civilian casualties and citywide destruction, this scene feels ill-advised and somehow devoid of any real stakes. It’s as if they included it as an homage to what came before, as it makes little sense in the context of the film.

As far as being the first building block of Dark Universe, The Mummy is more Iron Man than Iron Man 2. Henry and Prodigium serve the plot of The Mummy without seeming like an organization that solely exists to connect the universe, just as Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. did in Iron Man. The film doesn’t spend too much time building up Prodigium, aside from a few awesome Easter Eggs, there isn’t an annoying amount of world building, or questions left unanswered. Iron Man 2 was a total universe-building and S.H.I.E.L.D. establishing feature, but The Mummy does not fall victim to that. An even better comparison would be that Prodigium serves the story as Monarch does in Godzilla (2014). The organization is there to help with handling Ahmahet, not expose us to whatever comes next.

The Mummy is uneven, and a bit anti-climatic, but overall it is an enjoyable time at the movies. The plot makes sense and is easy to follow, the action is mostly fun, most of the humor works, and the film makes great use of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe. Though Dark Universe does have quite a bit of room for improvement, it is not off to a bad start!

Grade: B+

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