No, a different mummy.
Did you know that Universal Pictures is launching a whole franchise called Dark Universe? Maybe I’m slipping a bit on Hollywood current events because I had not heard so much as a whisper about this until screening the first film in the franchise – The Mummy – Tuesday night (June 7). My friend told me about this franchise as we waited for movie to start, describing how this universe was summed up as Gods vs. Monsters. After some research, it’s more accurate to describe it as Universal executives remembering they made a slew of classic monster movies several decades ago, have several billion dollars on hand from The Fast and The Furious and Despicable Me franchises, and figuring they can’t make a worse literary-monster mashup than The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Of course, by this time those executives were drunk and had forgotten they were responsible for Dracula Untold just three years ago.
On top of knowing nothing about this Dark Universe, I also had seen exactly no trailers for The Mummy until the night after screening the full film. I highly recommend doing this to see how deceptive or honest a trailer for a given movie ended up being. In the case of The Mummy, the trailer promised a dark horror/action flick with a mostly serious and dramatic tone. That trailer is a big fat liar. What we got instead was a goofy action-comedy trying to make you believe it was dark because of its color palette. In the end, it delivered a crappy film that made Boris Karloff turn in his grave. But, here’s the weird thing – I liked it. I know. Maybe I’m slipping a bit.
At least she looked cool.
(Side note: The trailer gives away 90% of the movie, so I’ll give you a mostly worthless SPOILER warning now.)
Why did I like this movie? Great question. Well, for starters Tom Cruise dies. My friend asked if I like Tom Cruise and if that’s why I liked the movie. I do not like Tom Cruise as a human, but I do think he’s a really good actor. But that’s not why I like watching him die in movies. It’s because A-list movie stars never die in movies unless they play the villain and sometimes not even then. It’s probably just a coincidence that my favorite Tom Cruise movie is Edge of Tomorrow. My point is that whatever you may think of Tom Cruise outside of a movie, the man really is a good actor. And, as he did in Edge of Tomorrow, he plays a character (Nick Morton) who’s kind of a weasel, which is against type for typical Cruise characters. I also appreciate that Universal is thinking big and trying to create a whole new universe to bring to us. Yeah, they’re cheating a bit by using existing characters, but Marvel and DC didn’t exactly start from scratch and Universal doesn’t have decades worth of source material like Marvel and DC do.
There also wasn’t anything in the film that triggered my hatred the way other shitty movies have. There were no overblown controversies about acting choices or screwing up a classic or remake fatigue. Aside from one weirdo who clapped way too loud at Jekyll introducing himself, the audience didn’t behave in a manner that caused my brain to hurt. There weren’t any deliberately idiotic moments in the film designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But the biggest factor is probably me just being in exactly the right mood to enjoy a bad popcorn flick. Dismissing how likely this movie is to crush the franchise in its infancy, I’m curious enough about where they are going with this Dark Universe that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
That being said, this movie is shit. There is no glossing over that fact and none of my friends were amused by this film like I was. The film starts off with title cards and narration (two signs of post-production add-ons due to lazy/bad writing), a story of medieval knights and their coffins being discovered in modern-day London, then introduces us to Nick and his pal, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), two American reconnaissance soldiers scheming to find and sell ancient artifacts in Northern Iraq while on duty. Ten minutes in and I turned my brain off as a precaution to prevent brain damage. Making them derelict soldiers murdered any chance of sympathizing with them, but it was done solely to justify a filming a drone strike on terrorists in which the resulting crater revealed the burial sight of our villain, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella).
I don’t really like me either.
Enter Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance), a man trying to act like he’s in charge but constantly deferring to archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). Also, he’s well aware of Nick and Chris shenanigans, but doesn’t even offer a cursory explanation for why they aren’t rotting in Leavenworth. Jenny, Nick, and Chris’ (and nobody else, for some reason) go down into the hole and discover a sarcophagus immersed in a pool of mercury guarded by six Egyptian statues. Despite Ahmanet being a known evil, the Egyptians engineered the prison (a prison realized by Jenny through a series of Hollywood leaps in logic) so that simply cutting one cable removed the sarcophagus from the pool. Neat.
As soon as the sarcophagus is out, Nick starts blacking out and having visions of Ahmanet (this goes on through the entire film and is used as a convenient plot device whenever the movie can’t figure out how to get to the next location) while Ahmanet immediately summons a hoard of camel spiders, one of which bites Chris. This allows Ahmanet to possess Chris, creating another plot device in which Chris mostly appears as an expositioning zombie-ghost. Seriously, there might be something wrong with me.
The real problem with this movie is it isn’t interested in its own main plot (the mummy and her goal), but is interested in setting up this so-called Dark Universe. Ahmanet isn’t cursed nor does she throw a curse out prior to her mummification. They simply say she’s evil, wants to complete a ritual to bring the god Set into the mortal plane, and can be stopped by mercury. Since Nick is responsible for her release, she’s chosen him as the vessel for Set and Chris keeps appearing to Nick to remind him of such. She is eating people to regain her entire form, not because it makes her stronger but because that’s what they did in The Mummy remake in 1999 (the fun Brendan Fraser one) and this new version is incredibly lazy. All she has to do is put a ruby back in a magic knife and stab Norton with it to conjure Set. She’s as pointless as Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger and just as terribly developed.
Her eyes and tattoos meant as little as her goal.
(Side note: For a movie trying to convince everyone it has nothing to do with Fraser’s flick, it borrows heavily from it. Including the reconstitution thing, her face appears in a sand storm, the hero fights a bunch of animated skeleton warriors with a club, Nick and Chris are both soldiers searching for buried treasure, the hero falls for a hot Egyptologist with a British accent, a goofy character doing the bidding of the villain, and the villain is trying to resurrect someone).
About halfway through the film Ahmanet is captured by the Prodigium, a secret organization led by Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) to combat evil. Yes, that Dr. Jekyll and yes, combat evil. Their hideout is filled with easter eggs of familiar monster parts (skulls and various other body parts) and the threat of raising Set doesn’t concern them beyond Set also being evil. The entire third act is nothing more than a set-up for Norton to sacrifice himself to defeat Ahmanet, but become something more than human that won’t be revealed until some later movie. Also, he stabs himself with the completed knife for reasons that don’t make sense even in this absurd movie. Yeah, I’m pretty sure something broke me (maybe being exposed to Disney World for two solid weeks?).
In what little screen time Russell Crowe gets, he gives us a Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde that we learn just enough about to be interested in for the next film. Also, Jenny is part of this organization, though she quickly becomes the cliched damsel in distress despite having been built up as a strong character during the first two acts. The worst character (and actor) is easily Chris, as I’ve already described, and Johnson proves that he is nothing more than Nick Miller from New Girl, which made it extra weird every time he said Nick’s name. Come to think of it, every episode of that show is superior to this film.
You’re the leader of the what now?
I’m sure I could have been much meaner to this film, but like I said, my anger wasn’t stoked at all. After two days of pondering, I still can’t come up with a good reason I liked this film beyond my logical brain just needing a rest and my lizard brain taking over for two hours. One thing I can promise you is that if the next movie in the franchise isn’t cancelled due to this stinker (reportedly, the next film is The Bride of Frankenstein), I won’t be nearly as forgiving if it’s similar. Unless Tom Cruise dies again in the film.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back. The Mummy is what happens when you cross 2004’s Van Helsing with a bear riding a unicycle. I’m not sure what that means, but you probably shouldn’t pay for it.