Cruise ‘Mummy’ Threatens Dark Universe (Movie Review)

Everyone was where they need to be and all of the objects were in place, and yet, when attempting to conjure up success, The Mummy did not rise. While I was wrapped up in anticipation for a new take on The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, everything seemed to unravel rather quickly as the film shambled along. With all the mummy puns out of my system now, let me just say I can’t help but feel disappointed, as Cruise is one to fully commit and star in quality pictures, but The Mummy didn’t deliver the summer fun I was hoping for.

Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a soldier/thief who manages to run and gun his way right to the ancient tomb/prison of a hidden sarcophagus. After some exploration by Nick, his best pal Chris (Jake Johnson) and stock archaeologist lady Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), the sarcophagus is removed from under the earth and placed on a cargo plane to be studied back in London. This was a mistake, as an uneasy feeling quickly turns into all hell breaking loose, leading to death and destruction. However, it would appear the evil within the sarcophagus (this would be the disgraced Princess Ahmanet, the mummy herself, portrayed by Sofia Boutella) has other plans for Nick.

On paper, this all adds up. It takes familiar elements of other mummy movies and updates the idea for modern times. It still focuses on the horror angle, with an ancient creature looking for its companion and performing various types of rituals and casting spells to help it get its way. There’s also the adventure element seen in the various older installments of mummy movies, most recently the (very fun) Stephen Sommers/Brendan Fraser movies. This precedent should work well for Cruise, an actor who does everything he can to make sure he keeps the audience entertained, and yet it doesn’t.

With six credited writers, including frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Rogue Nation), blockbuster screenwriter David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park), and director Alex Kurtzman (another blockbuster screenwriter – Star Trek, Transformers), it is both hard and easy to see why everything felt off. While talented people were clearly all working together here, it seems like The Mummy was more or less crossing ideas off a list, rather than telling a story that flowed properly. It establishes a few characters and has them say things to feel relatable, but the little jokes were never quite landing, and the chemistry was never quite there. Some major action sequences delivered as far as scale, but the sense of wonder and the level of thrills didn’t hit right.

There is a good and bad side to this. Starting on the bad, The Mummy is the supposed beginning of Universal’s Dark Universe, a series of new films based on the classic Universal monsters. If the film is as much a dud to audiences as it was for me, things may be at an end before they even begin. On the other hand, one bad mummy will not necessarily stop us from seeing what other attempts come out of an ambitious plan for a new cinematic universe (Bride of Frankenstein is up next, so we’ll see how that goes in due time). With that in mind, it does bring me to one of the film’s few successes.

Russell Crowe co-stars in the film as Dr. Henry Jekyll, who seems to be functioning as the Nick Fury of this franchise, albeit with a dark side that makes him violent and cockney. Jekyll’s role is to deliver a ton of exposition, but Crowe seems to be having so much fun that it makes no difference. He leaves enough of a lasting impression that was welcome during the film’s draggy middle section. Given the film’s several action sequences and various scenes of banter that just weren’t clicking in the lead up to said middle section, at least Jekyll was something of a saving grace.

As far as how The Mummy fares as a creature feature, there are aspects to enjoy. Boutella (and the visual effects team) does fine work as the titular mummy. She brings enough of a presence to feel like a threat and is differentiated from past iterations to provide a fresh take on this monster. There are also plenty of mummy underlings making an appearance throughout, which allows the film to have plenty of fun finding ways for Cruise to punch and kick lots of undead foes. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling of something not adding up. (One could also note some of the obvious CG and frequent moments utilizing ADR, but my issues extended beyond this).

The Mummy has all the hallmarks of a solid Cruise adventure, including Cruise’s cocky assuredness that leads him into humorous amounts of danger and a generous amount of running. That’s not enough though when the film just seems to feel flat. I could appreciate the effort to keep the horror element at the forefront as well, but the whole production failed to register to great effect. It’s a shame, as some unique set pieces are here, such as a wild plane crash, a mummy car chase, and a London-based sand storm, yet none of this felt special.

I do my best to champion Cruise, as he typically brings his all. That is the case for The Mummy, but the film has trouble keeping everything exciting. It presents some fun moments, but also feels like a slog. The cast is game to play along, but these aren’t exactly the fun figures I can’t wait to see again (save for Dr. Jekyll). There are some cool creature effects, but that only goes so far. The Dark Universe has other directions it can go, but The Mummy may be better off left in the tomb.

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