There is something inherently sad about Universal Pictures: starting in the 20s with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, they reached their peak of fame and success in the 30s and 40s producing movies starring monsters of gothic literature, with iconic portrayals of characters such as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, and Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man. Midway through the 50s moviegoers grew tired of these movies, so Universal started selling the rights of their movies to other studios such as the British Hammer Film Productions. It wasn’t until 1999 that they started making new monster movies with Stephen Sommer’s action-horror The Mummy (and two sequels of much lower quality). In 2004 the same director attempted to start a new shared universe with the unsuccessful and bloated (but very much enjoyable) Van Helsing, nor with the underrated gory version of The Wolfman (released in 2010). The next pointless effort in starting this universe came with the Luke Evans vehicle Dracula Untold in 2014, a movie that I quite enjoyed but mostly everyone found uninteresting (the fact that the Dracula character is now public domain does not help).
And now, here we are in 2017, watching Universal’s attempt at making us care about their new Dark Universe, starting off with a new version of The Mummy (it worked 18 years ago, why wouldn’t it work today?), directed by Alex Kurtzman and starring Tom Cruise. While worldwide box office reports have been more than positive, the same cannot be said about critics and audience reception. But what do I think about it? Well, first you need heavy-handed exposition to know my backstory: I grew up watching the Brendan Fraser duology (with the first one truly scaring me when I was very little), and I have a weak spot for action-horror movies (that is, movies with horror elements/monsters with an emphasis on action scenes).
The first word that comes to mind when thinking about this is movie is disappointing. There are some genuinely great things about it: plenty of care was put into building all the different sets, there was a big emphasis on creating complex stunts, and plenty of those who worked on this movies (allegedly) grew up watching the original Universal Monsters films (even though my cynical side knows it is just a marketing stunt to make the Dark Universe feel closer to the 30s’ masterpieces). However, all of this care does not pay off in a satisfying way, especially when it comes to the stunts. What made Tom Cruise’s performance and stunt-work in all the Mission Impossible films memorable is that they built entire scenes around them, while here all the stunts amount to nothing more than 3 seconds of him falling down a cliff, being thrown into a brick wall, or jumping into a side-way bus while a ton of CGI enhancements are used around him that (hadn’t I seen the behind-the-scenes featurette) I would have believed that the stunts weren’t real.
The script itself is one of the messiest of the year (unsurprisingly, there are 3 people credited for the screenplay, and other 3 for the screen story): excluding the opening exposition dump regarding princess Ahmanet (which, let’s be honest, has been in every Mummy film since 1932), plenty of times when characters are in danger are undercut by flat jokes, things that are quite obvious are blatantly stated, and every character lacks any sort of depth and charisma. At the same time, some jokes were kinda funny, and the interactions between Cruise and Russell Crowe were quite fun to watch.
The cast itself is not half bad, with only one exception. Tom Cruise portrays a soldier/treasure hunter who is egotistical, selfish, but not afraid to face evil straight on. Jake Johnson is his side kick and comedic relief, and he has some Jack Goodman moments that you are going to call either homage or rip-off of a classic horror movie based on whether or not you enjoy them (I fall in the former category, since that concept hasn’t been executed that often). Russell Crowe delivers the best performance and character of the film as the leader of Prodigium, an organization focused on analyzing and destroying supernatural creatures, and it will be the connective tissue between the films of the universe. Sofia Boutella as the titular mummy delivered a solid performance both in how she moved and how she talked, but the movie is so focused on its main star that it forgets to make the film about the true star, which is the monster, and you lack any sympathy for her (which goes against the true nature of the original monster movies, in which the motivations were relatable). Courtney B. Vance phones in his performance as generic military leader #49. Lastly, Annabelle Wallis… so far, in every movie I have seen her in (this, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Body of Lies, and especially Annabelle) she has been the worst part, with either flat delivery or goofy faces that really get on my nerves, and it does not help that the romantic subplot between her and Cruise is tacked on.
However, with all of that said, I have to admit that I did enjoy the film. This is pure schlock, with constant screaming, sandstorms, killer birds, zombies, hallucinations, overload of flashbacks, goofy CGI-enhanced faces, bloated music, and ideas so insane that I am baffled this movie exists. If it weren’t for the truly underwhelming third act and disappointing climax, this would have reached King Arthur’s levels of guilty pleasure. A longer runtime to flesh out the characters more and have time to breathe would have benefitted this movie a lot.
Overall, even though the movie delivers fun action scenes and some interesting ideas, the story is so unfocused on the characters (especially its titular antagonist) that it wanders aimlessly from setpiece to setpiece. Could have been better, but also could have been worse, The Mummy is a rocky start to one of my most anticipated cinematic universes in a long time. Here’s hoping for a bigger emphasis on character and gothic atmosphere in Bill Condon’s upcoming version of Bride of Frankenstein.
Visual Effects: 7.5
Violence & Gore: 7
Sex & Nudity: 4.5
Drugs & Profanity: 4
Intensity & Horror: 6