Movie Review: The Mummy

Universal Pictures stumbles badly in launching a new franchise series

The Mummy
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
With Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe

Of all the standard movie monsters, mummies should be a bit on the campy and slightly humorous side. It is hard to take them fully seriously. The new version of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, leaves out the campy fun and also fails to deliver on the scares. There is lots of action, but the result is an undercooked mess with too many ingredients.

Film studio Universal Pictures from the 1920s up through the '50s was the place for monsters, from Dracula to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio hopes to launch a series called Dark Universe, capitalizing on their legacy, tas an answer to the Marvel and DC comics universes.

But it has gotten off to a very bad start.

The Mummy is very reminiscent of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and Van Helsing (2004), which tried to jam too much in hoping something would stick. The opening scene takes place not in Ancient Egypt, as would make sense, but in London during the time of the Crusades with some nonsense about a sacred stone.

Later, the plot about the actual mummy, Princess Ahmanet (played by Sofia Boutella), is explained. She is buried not in a standard sarcophagus, but some metal object that looks like a prop from the Alien film franchise. Any sense of elaborate mystical Egyptian rituals is left out, though Ahmanet has been playing with dark forces, so at least here is a hint of magic.

Skipping ahead to modern times, Tom Cruise finally turns up as a Nick Morton, a soldier who loots antiquities and then blames their destruction on the enemies in the Middle East. After a battle scene, he stumbles on the lost tomb of Princess Ahmanet and plot finally hits its stride.

The crux of the film is that, after this, Nick Morton is cursed. But there is no curse. He starts having visions as soon as he discovers the tomb. There was no scene of anyone putting a curse on the person who discovers the tomb when the princess was buried. Nobody read out any Egyptian curse when the tomb was opened. It simply never happened.

The filmmakers have absolutely no feel for the mummy genre. The rest of the film is more of a lukewarm zombie film than a mummy film, with lots of dead people walking around.

Morton, who is a soldier, suddenly is out of uniform and seems to have just quit as if being in the army was like working in fast food.

References to lots of other films are thrown in, but for no apparent reason. Armies of rats swarm, as if it were Nosferatu. Birds attack, as if it were The Birds. There are references to the Blind Dead series of Spanish horror films. Even the obscure film Lifeforce, also known as Space Vampires, is evoked. The scene of the discovery of the tomb plays out like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A fictional character from a famous horror novel has a major role that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Much of the action takes place in London because naturally, that is the logical place for a resurrected Egyptian princess to need to go to after 5,000 years in her H.R. Giger-style sarcophagus.

The action scenes are well-staged, as one would expect in a film starring Tom Cruise. The early battle and a later scene in a military transport plane stand out as highlights. Some underwater scenes are also quite effective, if not entirely original.

But none of it holds together into a coherent story, and the end will have people scratching their heads and asking questions that can't be answered.

Cruise, as the star, is at his least charismatic. There is not enough development of his character for him to gain any audience sympathy. He has a sidekick, Sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), and they don't score as a screen buddy team either.

The romantic interest, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), is a bit aloof. A romantic encounter between her and Nick Morton is mentioned but never seen. The two don't really work as a screen couple.

The only one to score any points is Sofia Boutella as the princess/mummy, who manages to be a bit creepy and at the same time sexy, but not exactly scary.

Universal will have to rethink its Dark Universe if it is to compete with the other big multiple-character franchises. The Mummy misses out on all of the key elements for success.

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