3/10 The Mummy is the first entry in a series that had exciting potential, but instead turned into a pandering cluster that proves quality filmmaking isn’t a priority here.
While looting in Iraq, reconnaissance officers Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) accidentally discover the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who was buried alive 1,000 miles away from her homeland and wiped from its history books for murdering her family. Ahmanet had turned to worshipping Set, Egyptian god of chaos and violence, and was trying to bring him into a living body when she was captured. After being dug up 5,000 years later, she chooses Morton as a sacrifice to complete the ritual.
Ever since Marvel proved they could be a thing, studios have been looking for properties they can spin into cinematic universes. It’s viewed as a neat trick to guilt audiences into seeing movies they may not be particularly excited for so they’ll be up to date when the big crossover they are excited for hits theaters. Marvel’s actual neat trick, of course, is consistently producing movies that almost everyone likes.
The $200 million spit-balls that have been thrown against the cinematic universe wall in the hopes of sticking range from the poorly executed films of the DCEU to Sony’s just plain dumb plans for a Ghostbusters universe and a 21 Jump Street/Men In Black crossover series. The Mummy represents Universal’s first entry in their Dark Universe project, which is based around classic monster movie properties from the 1930s and ’40s. Unlike Warner Bros. and Sony, Universal isn’t run by idiots, so there was real reason to be optimistic for this series.
The Mummy’s myriad problems all trace back to its unstable chemistry. First, we get Ahmanet’s backstory narrated to us, then it transitions into a playful buddy movie with Morton and Vail. Then we get Ahmanet’s backstory narrated again, then we’re shown Ahmanet’s backstory, then it becomes a horror movie as they excavate the tomb. Then Vail dies and gets brought back to make jokes about the horror, then there’s more horror, then there’s sex jokes about the horror, then there’s a car chase scene, then Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) shows up — it’s a mess! Where studios have been throwing bad but tonally consistent movies at the wall to see what sticks, The Mummy does that on a scene-to-scene basis.
Some of them, like the plane crash scene and several of Boutella’s scenes, are even pretty good, but viewed as a whole, the movie doesn’t work at all.
It’s a crying shame for a movie that has a great base story about a man losing his mind. Ahmanet was supposedly erased from history, so stop narrating it! Focus the story tightly on Morton, and let the audience discover the princess’s tragic history slowly and frightfully. Let the expert characters flail at their lack of knowledge, enhancing the fear of the unknown and sense of inevitable doom the movie should be playing on.
With director/producer Alex Kurtzman seeming like the Dark Universe’s main creative guy along with Chris Morgan, it bodes ill for the series as well. Kurtzman is historically much more of a script doctor and a producer than a director, and he’s made a movie here that feels distinctly over-produced. If that’s going to be Dark Universe’s artistic philosophy, Hollywood can go without.
Given the way the numbers look, it just might. The Mummy is sandwiched between the second weekend of one of the best-reviewed superhero movies ever and Cars 3, with Transformers 5 and Despicable Me 3 over the following weekends and exciting smaller movies like It Comes at Night, The Beguiled and Baby Driver coming underneath for more discerning moviegoers. That’s all within this month. While the movies that kicked off DC were widely mocked, they made a ton of money. It’s tough to see The Mummy meeting its financial goals.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and a syndicated columnist with the Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to reelentropy@.