OnScreen Review: 'The Mummy'

Ken Jones

  • OnScreen Chief Film Critic

In a world in which every studio has to have a blockbuster shared cinematic universe, Universal Studios has dug into its back catalog of classic horror monsters to create a revival of what is now being called the “Dark Universe.” These films will bring together the stories of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-Man and other classic monsters into a shared universe. Kicking off the Dark Universe is The Mummy, curiously starring Tom Cruise.

Working for the U.S. military in Iraq, treasure hunter/soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Cruise) and his close friend and partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) stumble across an ancient Egyptian tomb located beneath the streets of a remote town, which they discovered through Nick sleeping with an archaeologist and stealing her notebook. That archaeologist, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) tracks them down when they call in an airstrike to save their skin, which unearthed the tomb. Inside, they find a sarcophagus submerged in mercury. Perplexed by presence of an Egyptian tomb in the middle of Iraq but pressed for time, they extract the sarcophagus and make for an airfield. Little do they know that inside lays the body of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who killed her family and made a deal with the god Set. Set bestowed her with a dagger that she would have used to give him human form, but she was captured and buried alive. Released from her forgotten tomb, Ahmanet set her sights on Nick, cursing him as the new vessel for Set to come to Earth, and the organization that Jenny secretly works for, led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), may be the only thing that stands in the way of that happening.

When word came out that Universal was planning to remake all of their classic movie monsters, it wasn’t a surprise. It was an unoriginal and uninspired move, but it has been done countless times in the past. In fact, this incarnation of The Mummy was sold to the public initially as a reboot of the Brendan Fraser-led films from nearly 20 years ago. Landing Tom Cruise as the lead, then, was a surprise turn of events. It never quite made sense to me why Tom Cruise would be interested in the project, even though his stated reason was that he loved the classic monster movies as a kid. After seeing the film, I’m wondering if he has second thoughts now. This film is easily the worst film of Cruise’s career. In fact, off the top of my head, I’m hard pressed to even think of one that comes close to it.

Practically nothing that transpires makes sense. When the tomb/prison of Ahmanet is discovered, there is a reservoir of mercury that is being fed by a continuous stream of mercury. Where is this endless reservoir coming from, in the desert no less? Ahmanet causes the plane transporting the sarcophagus to crash, with Nick on board, who later wakes up in the morgue in a body bag. It is never made clear why his being cursed prevents him from being killed like a normal human being and why she couldn’t just choose a new vessel if he died. These were one of about a dozen questions that popped into my head as I was sitting in the theater.

The reason these questions were popping up regularly in my head is because there is little to nothing in terms of compelling action or set pieces. These classic horror monsters are being brought into a modern world, but not set in a modern horror film. The Mummy is an action film through and through will a few nods to horror. And the action is dull. The action sequence where the plane crashes is impressive, but most of it takes place inside the cargo bay of the plane, which was actually filmed using practical effects, but there’s nothing about it that stands out with a “Wow!” factor. There’s nothing original or inventive about the fighting, just tired stuff that has been done better in many other movies. Of course, there’s also the obligatory Tom Cruise running. Running through alleys as he and Jake Johnson are shot at, running through a field after realizing that the Mummy he is seeing in his weird visions is actually real, running through London as stone buildings and glass are transformed into a giant sandstorm chasing him.

Some of the CGI is probably one of the few things that stands out about the film. When Ahmanet is released, she is the shriveled, mummified corpse you’d expect, and she slowly regains a normal human appearance over the course of the film by literally sucking the life out of her victims. The work that goes into her appearance and of the undead she commands looks impressive, most reminiscent of Cara Delavigne’s Sorceress from Suicide Squad. Less remarkable is the work done in transforming Crowe from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, who looks like a severely bruised and bloated version of Russell Crowe with weird eyes. The film also blatantly rips off An American Werewolf in London in having a character that dies haunt Cruise’s Nick throughout the movie and provide exposition about what is happening to Nick.

Director Alex Kurtzman, who has an incredibly shaky track record writing and producing some of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade, from Transformers to Star Trek to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to name just a few, helms this as only his second directorial feature. It’s a visually dull film for the most part, though some of the flashbacks to the Egyptian desert look nice. London looks drab and the whole film is mostly working with a muted color palette. Despite millions more in money to spend and far superior technology at their disposal, this film never comes close to capturing the thrill or the spectacle of what those original films could pull off with makeup, lighting, and actors that completely embodied the role; in this case, Boris Karloff. As far as remakes of the Karloff classic go, this is one is shockingly inferior to even the remake from 1999. That film, and (at least) its first sequel, The Mummy Returns, had a level of 90s campy action that made the film tolerable in the broad, mindless blockbuster kind of way. I’ve never been a fan of Brendan Fraser as an actor, but this film actually made me miss Brendan Fraser, something I never thought possible.

The Mummy is a presumptive and imperious misstep by Universal, one that reeks of arrogance and hubris. As an entry point into a planned “Dark Universe” it’s an ignominious start. With several movies planned to follow based on this, and having announced major stars for the casting of major roles, The Mummy could seriously threaten those long-term plans. When the opening Universal logo appeared on screen, I leaned over to my friend Dave, who had gone to see it with me, and jokingly said that instead of the Universal logo they should have changed it to a “Dark Universe” logo. No sooner had I said this than the Universal logo continued past its normal sequence and slowly transitioned to a “Dark Universe” logo done in the style of the Universal Pictures logo. Really, that was the highlight of the film. It was all downhill from there.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars