As you may be aware, The Mummy is not only a revival of the classic Universal monster who first hit the big screen way back in 1932 (as portrayed by Boris Karloff) but is also an effort by Universal to launch their own connected universe, ala Marvel’s MCU, built around their movie monster library. To hopefully get things off on the right foot, they have enlisted the services of megastar Tom Cruise as lead protagonist Nick Morton as he takes the battle to the mummy of the new age, played by Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond). Backing the pair up is Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, a very public casting that is undoubtedly setting up a future installment in what Universal has dubbed their Dark Universe.
Seemingly everybody is trying to get in on the shared universe idea after seeing Marvel’s unparalleled success with The Avengers and the rest of their Cinematic Universe. Warner Brothers has their DC Extended Universe, which is a natural fit, but beyond that, it remains to be seen if this is a good idea, in general. Ironically, WB’s latest DCEU entry hit big, last weekend, and has taken hold of the public zeitgeist in a way that would make it difficult for virtually any film to follow – at least at the box office, if not creatively. So, the timing of the release of The Mummy may come back to bite it, but we’ll deal with that should it come to pass (for the record, I’m predicting a weekend box office repeat at number one for Wonder Woman).
The important topic at hand is simply whether or not The Mummy works on its own. Forget about Dark Universes; if this film fails to stand on its own two feet, audiences might lose interest in any potential follow-ups. Right off the bat, Universal goes out of its way to ensure that the audience understands that this is a Dark Universe film, as they’ve added a Dark Universe logo to accompany their Universal logo. This might seem a little ham-fisted upon initial consideration, but that’s branding for you. If Universal is going all in on this thing, they need to make sure that audiences comprehend it and begin to look for it. They have a lot invested in the idea as well as all of these monster properties that they’ve had in their possession for nearly 100 years, so I can’t blame them for going the extra mile. In a similar situation, any of us would be wise to do the same.
Continuing on the topic, Universal and director Alex Kurtzman let their inexperience with this sort of thing show through a scene designed entirely with the purpose of pushing this Dark Universe. It’s forced and it feels out of place, but much worse than that, it’s entirely underwhelming. If they want to do a connected universe like Marvel, that’s their prerogative and there’s nothing wrong with that, in theory. It could actually be kind of cool. But they have to understand that their properties aren’t the same as Marvel properties, so they need to take their own world-building approach and not so blatantly rip off the folks at Marvel who did it first and continue to do it best. They stopped short of a post-credits tag with Samuel L. Jackson, but it was still a jarring and deflating diversion in the middle of a film that needs all the positive word-of-mouth it can get.
Outside of that, I’m honestly still deciding how I feel about the movie. I know I didn’t actively dislike it, though I disliked elements of it. But other components were rather enjoyable. The dialogue is on the weaker side. It’s not uninteresting, but attempts at humor generally fall flat, despite the cast’s best efforts (especially Jake Johnson, who has excellent delivery. But even Amazon delivers crap if that’s what’s in the box.) The characters are mildly compelling, at best, and not particularly relatable. I suppose that’s not a crime, but relatability helps if an invested audience is desired. And there are clichéd action/suspense moments that don’t follow any sort of internal logic (including the infamous Stormtrooper aim). So, bleh.
On the flip side, the cast is watchable in spite of the lackluster material they’re given. Sofia Boutella looks to be having a good time as the villainous Ahmanet. The action is mostly fun and surprisingly varied in style for a movie centered around a supernatural force of evil, returned from the dead. Some of the beats and visuals are borrowed from the pair of Stephen Sommers Mummy films (both underrated and superior to this installment, as a whole. I really miss Arnold Vosloo shouting, “ANCK SU NAMUN!!!”), but maybe we’ll just call that an homage and keep moving. I was both pleased and surprised by the horror elements of the film. Yes, it’s horror-action, but those Sommers films practically jettisoned horror, altogether. So, it’s nice to get a healthy dose of it in this reboot, for a change. The action is relatively small scale, but it’s also a hard-hitting combination of traditional action set pieces infused with ancient Egyptian horror. It all feels at once unique and familiar, which is enough to essentially make it fresh, even in the face of so many Mummy films from decades past.
I’ve already seen some critics wield the tired expression “joyless” as a sword against the film, and I call foul. Firstly, the film aims for light moments. It doesn’t necessarily succeed, but it tries. But, even if it didn’t, so what? It’s bad enough that all of the studios seem to believe that if their big-budget films don’t play like a Marvel film, they’ll fail, but now some critics are basically telling them that they’re right. Blockbusters don’t have to have comedy and lightness to be “joyful”. Joy can come from other places, varying based on the individual viewer. In general, I personally get joy from exquisitely crafted action scenes. And horror. And a masterful acting performance. And lots of other things. I’m sure a lot of people will get joy from this film just by looking at Tom Cruise for two hours. “Joyless” is not a legitimate criticism; it’s a personal preference being projected as a fact. You know what’s joyless? Reading those short-sighted, uninsightful “reviews”.
That’s not to say that The Mummy is perfect or will be enjoyed by everyone. Neither is the case. I mostly enjoyed it (I liked it more than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), but not with any sort of overwhelming enthusiasm like I felt for Wonder Woman. If nothing else, at its best, the film is a fairly unique take on the Mummy mythos that stays true enough to still feel familiar and faithful. At its worst, it tries too hard to sell an audience on the Dark Universe before they’ve even been completely sold on The Mummy. So take all of this and do what you will with it. The movie is probably worth a look if this sort of film is your thing, but there are definitely better – and more important – films out there, right now.
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