Review: The Mummy (2017)


Universal Pictures attempts to launch a shared “Dark Universe” for its iconic monster properties with writer/director Roberto Orci’s adventure-horror franchise reboot of The Mummy; a movie at war with itself in terms of tone and pacing & which stumbles in its effort to deliver a coherent plot and storyline.

The classic Universal Monsters films of the 1930’s are one of the most enduring legacies of the golden age of cinema. The characters brought to life in the productions of Carl Laemmle, from Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein & Mummy to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, are immortal and untouchable icons of horror upon which a cornerstone of Universal’s legacy as a studio is built. It’s only natural that Universal would want to use these characters as an eventual lynchpin upon which to build a shared “Dark Universe” of films, not unlike Legendary and their Monsterverse and the shared DC & Marvel cinematic universes. The first film designed to kickoff this universe is Roberto Orci’s The Mummy starring Sofia Boutella as the titular character and Tom Cruise as the protagonist. Despite the talent involved, the film is unfortunately not the engaging first chapter in a crossover one would like to continue following; rather its a mixed jumble of notes and tones that heavily borrow from other iconic genre films that clash without adding much original flavor to the film.

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a black market antiquities broker/soldier of fortune/everyday joe. Think of a mix of Brendan Frasier’s character from the 1999 Mummy franchise with a dash of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and more than a dollop of Bruce Campbell’s Ash from the Evil Dead franchise. Morton and his comedic sidekick Sgt. Vail (played by New Girl’s Jake Johnson have been conning and cajoling their way around the Persian Gulf using their affiliation with the government to find heritage sites worth looting. In Iraq, Morton seduces archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), from whom he steals a map to a hidden prison tomb containing the undead remains of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a female version of the previous Mummy films antagonist Imhotep with a similar origin. Ahmanet was imprisoned and mummified for trying to bring her chosen; the dark god Set into mortal being with an instrument known as the Dagger of Set. Through a series of unfortunate events, Morton frees Ahmanet and is cursed with the burden of being her new beloved – as Morton and Halsey travel through England to find the remnants of the dagger away from Ahmanet and to keep Morton from fulfilling his dark destiny as the incarnation of the god of death.

That’s a lot to unpack for one film and its only the barest of plot summaries one can provide for The Mummy. Throw in a subplot involving the tombs of knights templar which coalesces into a distaff homage/ripoff of Tombs of the Blind Dead and Zombi 2, Morton being haunted by a running gag straight out of An American Werewolf in London, and Cruise playing his character as a cross between Ethan Hunt in setpieces straight out of the Mission: Impossible franchise when he isn’t fighting disembodied skeletons like Ash and you get a movie that has too many cooks in the screenwriting kitchen. The Mummy has no less than 6 credited screenwriters and it shows on screen. While Cruise (literally) throws himself full bore into this production, the film’s biggest issues arise from the shared burden of “cinematic universe” films. The film has to tell a compelling story while laying down a groundwork for several more films; which it does by introducing a shadowy agency known as Prodigium, a cross between Doctor Who’s U.N.I.T. and Torchwood and any number of “groups collecting dark arcana” seen on film. Led by Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, the film has no patience for subtlety as Crowe’s turns into a form of Mr. Hyde literally within minutes of his introduction. Boutella does her best with the Ahmanet character; who alternates between CGI zombie and exotic flashback other for the first half of the film before the film settles on sexy mummy/Scorpion King for the film’s latter half. Boutella’s powers manifest as the plot calls for them and the film settles into a straightforward monster vs. badder monster ‘macguffin’ straight out of the Underworld franchise for its climax with shades of the serious codas found in Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” series for its ultimate denouement.

Ultimately, The Mummy is not a promising start for a franchise. Cruise’s movie star charisma doesn’t manifest to help the film out of its muddle of predictable genre tropes and his fans will likely be turned off by the visceral design of the horror characters throughout the film. Horror fans will likely be turned off at the wholesale appropriation of iconic genre films and the lack of any blood or gore throughout the film. The film does have some cool set pieces that are worth checking out if you can check your suspension of disbelief at the door. But the film’s pacing makes for a tedious affair in waiting for them. The real curse of The Mummy is seeing elements of what could have been on the screen in ill-fitting smorsgabord of disparate plot elements and stock tropes that undercut some good performances and creature designs throughout the film.