Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writer: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Producer: Alex Kurtzman, Chris Morgan, Sean Daniel, Sarah Bradshaw
Stars: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe
A thief, an archaeologist, and a mysterious doctor come together to stop a resurrected Egyptian princess from summoning the god of death.
Come at “The Mummy” as a standalone film, and it mostly gets the job done as a buttered popcorn blockbuster built from a big budget, big names, and big things going boom. Except there is a limited amount of slack to cut for focusing on soda pop thrills over substantial chills since “The Mummy” intends to anchor a slate of, presumably, similarly styled films. That prospect is harder to give a pass, much less muster enthusiasm for.
It would be like knowing in 2007 that in ten years time, there would be four more “Transformers” movies progressively promoting indecipherable CGI fireworks over engaging stories that make sense. Suddenly, what seemed like harmlessly hollow action entertainment that first time around takes a more ominously unattractive tone.
Plenty has been speculated elsewhere regarding Universal’s shared monster movie world and what “The Mummy” means to its direction. For the sake of this singular review, let’s simply say that “The Mummy” isn’t the homerun the studio hoped for as the inaugural entry in their “Dark Universe” series. It’s not the swing and a miss some critics claim it to be either. Keeping with the baseball metaphors, “The Mummy” hits more of a bloop single into right field: good enough to get on base, not so much for driving in a go-ahead run.
“The Mummy” has a great cast. Surprisingly, at issue is the fact that nearly none of them are right for their roles as written.
Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, a recon officer in the Army who pulls double duty as a treasure hunter pilfering priceless artifacts from Middle East warzones. Nick’s latest point of plunder comes courtesy of a map he stole by bedding an archaeologist in Baghdad and blackmailing his buddy into flirting with a court martial too.
Generally speaking, Tom Cruise has a charismatic screen presence. Although Cruise is considered a sex symbol by some, there remains a “clean” or “safe” aspect to his appeal, even in more rugged “Mission: Impossible” outings as an action star.
Which is why a womanizing playboy with a devil-may-care smirk connecting dots between one-night stands doesn’t fit his personality. Tom Cruise doesn’t sell cavalier smarminess the same way Kurt Russell, Matt Damon, or maybe Chris Pine could. Cruise can usually play almost anyone, but this Han Solo/Indiana Jones type is squarely in Harrison Ford territory, and actually aims younger than that.
The same is true of Cruise’s companions. Jake Johnson portrays Nick’s salty sidekick Vail, a function that suits Johnson fine, yet this specific characterization is on the other side of the actor’s specialty. “The Mummy” is peppered with subtle swaths of humor. But because characters skew slightly sideways from the actors’ familiar personas, comedy can’t cut in with nuances the screenplay intends.
On Nick’s other arm is the archaeologist he used to get in his mummy recovery mess in the first place. It isn’t Annabelle Wallis’ fault that Nick’s conscious love interest Jenny sets herself up to be more basic than white bread. That blame again falls on the script, written by committee in typical tentpole fashion, which constructs action to be empty, people to be pedestrian, and lines to be literal.
When you add up dialogue for what it really says versus what is on the screen, “The Mummy” outs itself as being interested mostly in moving to the next chase or battle, not building backstory or keeping characters consistent. Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll proves this by virtue of his shoehorned inclusion.
Nick acquires a curse when he uncovers the tomb of Egyptian princess Ahmanet. This attracts the attention of Jekyll, who brings both Nick and Ahmanet back to his London lab. Jekyll is a brilliant scholar, doctor, lawyer, and leader of a secret society of monster hunters. Academic accreditations aside, when it comes to concocting a strategy for breaking the curse, his mind narrows to simplistic tunnel vision of putting a knife in Nick’s heart, insisting that is the only way.
Jenny has another way however, implying maybe she has more mental acuity than her mentor. She never gets around to proposing her plan directly to Jekyll though. She’s busy being led by the hand as a damsel in distress from a spectacular plane crash to a spectacular van crash to a spectacular citywide sandstorm to a slightly less spectacular underground flood full of zombies. You can say that “The Mummy” is light on a lot of things, but you can’t say it’s light on summer movie spectacle.
Ultimately, “spectacle” is the word of the day for “The Mummy.” Act one layers in extensive exposition. As soon as that’s out of the way, the film’s foot puts the gas pedal to the floor and never once dares to check the rearview mirror.
The downside to all of this energetic emphasis on everyone and everything other than Ahmanet, who spends much of her movie embalmed in a sarcophagus or in shackles as a prisoner, is that the main attraction isn’t the mummy. It’s an awkwardly inserted faceoff between Jekyll and Nick, undead attacks, spider swarms, shattering glass, and eardrum-piercing explosions. Something is always happening in “The Mummy.” Now try finding a motivated plotline connecting that sight and sound fury together.
If Universal wants to refashion their monster properties as action-adventures instead of classic creature features, that’s their prerogative. But when the response to flash and fire without a rolling rhythm is as underwhelming as it was for “Dracula Untold” (review here) and now “The Mummy,” no one should be surprised by the disappointment, either from the audience or at the box office.
Review Score: 55