Overview: An ancient mummy awakens from her tomb and must be stopped by a thief and an archaeologist. Universal; 2017; Rated-M; 110 mins.
Dark Universe: The original Universal horror movies are a wonderful collection of weird little gems filled with iconic monsters, mad scientists, and adventure. When Universal announced their Dark Universe would be a modern version of these stories set in a shared universe featuring, initially, The Mummy, the Invisible Man, Frankenstein’s monster, and Jekyll and Hyde, I was overjoyed. However, now that I’ve seen the first outing for the Dark Universe, The Mummy, I’m going to have to temper my expectations.
Tone: The main issue with The Mummy is that it can’t decide if it wants to make fun of itself or be deadly serious. If it settled on either tone it might work better, but it whips so drastically between the two that it never lets the audience get comfortable. It’s possible to have a movie like this with people earnestly intoning about wicked curses and doomed villains, while at the same time making some jokes and being a bit wacky. I know this is true because 1999’s The Mummy did exactly that. 2017’s Mummy is a mix of clunky dialogue about monsters delivered with the seriousness of a Shakespearean soliloquy and unfunny, broad comedy. It has the feeling of a few scripts being mixed together, which makes sense considering there are six credited writers: three for the story and three for the screenplay.
Direction: Alex Kurtzman, in his second directing gig, doesn’t really bring anything distinct to proceedings and, while everything is fairly competent, there is a feeling that he wastes his chance to do something really interesting with Tom Cruise in the lead. Cruise’s reputation for actually doing all of the mad stunts he does makes him the perfect action hero for a director with a bit of creativity and vision. The early scenes of the plane crash with everyone experiencing zero-g inside were actually filmed in the vomit comet so in actual weightlessness. The scene looks effective but that’s where it stops. There are creative uses of this setting and the fact that you’ve got Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis actually doing the stunt should make a director want to exploit those uses.
On the flipside of that, in a later sequence when Cruise is underwater Kurtzman uses Cruise’s Cruise-ness to great effect by being able to keep the camera on him for long, underwater takes so we can see that it is actually Cruise swimming and holding his breath for ages. This scene, while great, just made me want more like and really highlighted the absence of anything as interesting in the rest of the movie.
Overall: The Mummy is a by-the-numbers movie that shows some weird promise but never commits to being truly outrageous. Sofia Boutella continues to be an incredible movie presence and is a fantastic antagonist when she gets to do stuff, so it would have been nice to see her in a better-made movie. I love these monster characters so I’m intrigued to see what happens next but if the Dark Universe is going to succeed it’s going to need filmmakers with a distinct vision and the bravery to take the material and make it their own.