Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson and Annabelle Wallis
The most surprising thing in the new Mummy reboot occurs in the first ten seconds. Right after the Universal logo ends, the globe spins and a shiny new logo is revealed. In bold, black lettering, the text “Dark Universe” appears emblazoned on a solar eclipse. The logo marks the beginning of a new initiative, which involves Universal giving their iconic monster properties a modern reworking, beginning with The Mummy (2017). It’s surprising because with the tease of an extended universe, Universal proceed to deliver a reboot so generic and lifeless that it pretty much destroys interest in their future plans.
The Mummy is a modern update that only does the bare minimum in fulfilling the requirements of a mindlessly entertaining, popcorn blockbuster. It lacks the atmosphere, tension or even inventive action to offer anything more than basic B-movie thrills from its blockbuster $125 million budget. Only the stunts are moderately impressive, but they pale in comparison to what Tom Cruise has already done far better in his Mission: Impossible franchise. Even the film’s heavily promoted zero gravity sequence is little more than what was shown in the trailer contextualised. More disappointingly, though, is that the film uses its nonstop action to distract you from the cobbled together storytelling.
The film’s story problems are evident in the first ten minutes. The opening scenes are messily stitched together as they jump between the past and the present, busily trying to establish the film’s lore. We are first introduced to Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll, after his team discover an ancient tomb deep below present day London. At this point there’s no mention of who he is or what his significance is to the story. He simply appears and the film abruptly cuts to his heavy-handed narration of the origins of the Mummy. It’s an awkward exposition dump that feels like the product of a screenplay that has been worked over a few too many times.
Then the story suddenly shifts to the middle of Iraq where we meet Tom Cruise’s character. Cruise plays ex-US military officer, Nick Morton, an intrepid adventurer-cum-ancient artefact procurer. Together with his fellow explorer and military buddy, US Sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), they stumble upon an ancient prison where the tomb of the vengeful Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) lies. After excavating the tomb and placing it aboard an aircraft, a flock of birds suddenly cause the plane to crash and the reawakened Princess is unleashed upon the world. Thus ensues a race against time to stop her from fulfilling an ancient prophecy that puts the fate of the world at risk. It’s typical fantasy fluff that is not so much bad as completely derivative.
It also doesn’t help that the film is a tonal mess. Any detours into dark territory are quickly diffused with off-putting comedy, making the film feel decisively more silly than scary. It seems like the filmmakers have taken a page out of Marvel’s handbook, matching action sequences with frequent bouts of comedic relief, and it just doesn’t gel well with the darker material. Clearly the film was made with a teen audience in mind and the result is your typical M-rated action blockbuster, full of goofy humour and noisy set pieces with nothing distinct to set it apart.
On the acting side things aren’t much brighter. Throughout the years, Tom Cruise has proven to be a reliable action star, but even he feels like a fish out of water in the fantasy genre. Fighting off skeletal zombies just doesn’t fit his style and he looks bewildered amidst the cheesy special effects and supernatural goings-on. Russell Crowe doesn’t fare any better, turning in a dispirited performance as Dr. Jekyll, the leader of a clandestine organisation called Prodigium. Think of him like Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D, except for monsters not superheroes, and without Samuel L. Jackson’s level of energy or enthusiasm. For such a pivotal part, not just in the film, but also in the connected universe, his evident disinterest in the material only compounds the problems facing the “Dark Universe” in the future. Only Sofia Boutella stands out as the titular Mummy. The former dancer puts her training to good use by contort her body in all manner of creepy and unsettling ways. Unfortunately the film’s light-hearted tone means her character never feels as scary or sinister as it should.
Overall, as a generic action blockbuster, The Mummy is passably entertaining. But as an earnest attempt to sell you a new cinematic universe, the film is neither engaging nor interesting enough to be considered a success. Maybe the future “Dark Universe” films will prove to be more successful (if they get made) but this is one Mummy that should have been left in its tomb.
Words by Dominic Kwaczynski